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Myanmar peace process is not making a meaningful progress on substance as desired so far. There are various challenges and obstacles that constantly block the collective efforts to make significant progress that is essential to keep the momentum of peace process going strong in order to secure a lasting peace. The TIME has come for key leaders of the main stakeholders that are leading the formal peace process to take a bold decision to collectively tackle these challenges by addressing issues that are becoming a stumbling block in the political dialogue, and making necessary changes to streamline their existing negotiation structure where necessary. Without addressing the two issues highlighted, it would be difficult for the current political dialogue to produce a substantive outcome. When there is no meaningful progress on substantive issues, ethnic armed organizations that have not signed the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA) have no strong incentive to join the formal process. 

First, it is essential to resolve issues that are causing stalemate, which hinders any meaningful progress from the political dialogue. Breaking this stalemate/deadlock has to be their main and highest priority. Otherwise, the failure to break this deadlock can have a disastrous impact on the overall peace process. What is necessary is to identify issues that are causing impasse, and find a negotiated solutions to solve them. Such difficult issues are not many. Among them is the ongoing negotiation over this question of whether the non-secession clause should be explicitly written as one of the basic principles of Myanmar federal system, which would become a part of the expected Union Accord (UA). Issue like this requires a political decision at the top leadership levels of all key stakeholders involved after serious negotiation among them. 

There are unwarranted consequences for not finding a negotiated solution in a timely manner. One, there is no meaningful dialogue and serious negotiation on substantive matters of federal and democratic principles that are politically significant and important for peace process to deliver in Myanmar. When the political dialogue does not discuss substantive and important political matters, and no substantive outcome from the current political dialogue, it worsens the prevalent skepticisms in the overall peace process. It also creates more misunderstanding among parties, which undermines mutual trusts. Moreover, the process is creating a vacuum for spoilers to exploit such absence of meaningful progress and disagreement among key parties to sabotage the overall peace process.   

As it stands, the leaderships of peace process simply cannot afford to keep on delaying the urgent need to negotiate to resolve this kind of difficult issue. The fact of the matter is that there cannot be a substantive agreement made on key basic principles of federal and democratic systems as long as there is no political decision on difficult issues like the non-secession question. We can expect a meaningful progress from the ongoing political dialogue (the 21st century Panglong conference) ONLY after there is a negotiated solution secured among key parties to difficult issues such as the non-secession clause. Whether they like it or not, the circumstances gravely demand that the top leaderships of the formal peace process squarely focus on negotiating these difficult issues in the peace process.   

The second thing they need to tackle is to re-design a negotiating mechanism and process for the top leaderships to negotiate with the aim of resolving important issues including matters that cause a stalemate. In the coming meetings that they convene as they already have a plan, such mechanism could be reconfigured while they are reviewing and reforming the existing framework for political dialogue. A classic example of why a framework review is compulsory is that there is ambiguity, confusion and lack of common understanding of the current political dialogue structure and its decision-making mechanism among delegates of the conference. For instance, one of the confusions was over who has a final decision-making power between these two bodies, either the Union Peace Conference (UPC) or Union Peace Dialogue Joint Committee (UPDJC).   

Some argued it is the UPC that has the highest decision-making authority, whereas some argued it is the UPDJC that has a final decision-making power. This confusion was again becoming a controversial issue during the 3rd Union Peace Conference (the 21st century Panglong). As a result, instead of devoting the entire times discussing and negotiating the substance and concept of issues in the agendas, times were wasted with back-and-forth arguments over which of the two, UPC or UPJDC, has a final decision-making power. The bottom line is that without immediately undertaking a serious framework review and making necessary changes to make crystal clear about the roles and powers of each body, there will be the same problem of controversy among delegates over the process, and not the substance of political dialogue. 

As sequencing of activities and priorities in the right order is always crucial, now is the right time to tackle these difficult issues head-on. If there is no substantive agreement made on important political issues and resolving issues of the stumbling blocks facing peace process, holding another Union Peace Conference (the 21st century Panglong) would be undesirable. 

May the collective leaderships of the formal peace process soon secure a compromised solution acceptable to all parties concerned for any issues they negotiate in the best interest of the Union of Myanmar and its entire peoples! 

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