Other than the continued armed conflicts in Kachin and Shan states, one of the most frustrating realities when it comes to Myanmar peace process is the failure to make a substantive progress on important political matters – heart and soul of peace process - from the ongoing political dialogues: the Union Peace Conference (21st century Panglong). Not just this lack of meaningful progress, issues discussed in the last peace conference did not even include substantive political matters concerning political power structure necessary to reform the common Union in line with federal and democratic systems. Some points agreed so far from the peace conferences are not politically substantive or significant for ethnic national minorities who have long demanded a genuine federal system.
In his opening address at the last Union Peace Conference, the Commander-in-chief of armed forces, Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, has already expressed his preparedness to conclude peace process in 2020. Similarly, State Counsellor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi has also articulated her plan and desire to see the final adoption of key basic principles for Myanmar model of federal system before 2020. From the last Union Peace Conference, there was also a plan of holding three more peace conferences, one time this year and another two times in 2019. All of these statements signal the common recognition among key actors that either they would strike a Deal or no-Deal before 2020. When calculating available time and its constraint given that the political climate would be overshadowed by election in 2020, there is only one and half-year left to conduct a substantive negotiation in order to adopt basic principles, which would constitute as the basic foundation framework for Myanmar model of federal and democratic systems.
Embracing the urgency of tackling the substance of peace process, how many times the conference is held for the sake of holding a large gathering with no substantive outcome is not important. Other than a symbolic conference, negotiating key substantive principles in any format possible should always be a priority. The leaderships of peace process might be able to organize only one conference in the next two years as opposed to three times as they plan. If they can strike a final deal on the Union Accord with a single conference, that is what the peace process badly needs. After all, the success of Myanmar Peace process would not be judged by a number of conferences held, but would be judged on the substance, and whether the leaderships can finally achieve meaningful agreement on the proposed Union Accord that is essential to end decades of armed conflict.
Knowing that EAOs are the one advocating for a genuine federal system, it is noteworthy that they have already finished adopting the second version of their proposed Union Accord by stipulating clearly the basic principles that they want for a federal and democratic Union of Myanmar. As they continue making effort to secure the Union Accord, they should always make concerted attempt to capitalize on all openings, opportunities, and avenues to achieve their goal of a federal system as long as the door of political dialogue is open. If all of their important demands are met, they should also be ready to tell the Commander-in-Chief and State Counsellor that they (EAOs) are ready to sign a full package of Union Accord anytime.
In order to secure a successful outcome of signing the expected Union Accord (UA) that comprises of substantive basic principles governing democracy and federal system of the Union of Myanmar (Burma), what is loudly clear is that the collective leaderships of key parties involved in the peace process cannot afford to run their political dialogues as usual as they did before and on a part-time basis. They need to streamline their approach and mechanism with a clear focus on negotiating ‘key principles proposed in the Union Accord’ to find a common ground by conducting high-level meeting as frequent and long as necessary. If key negotiators from key stakeholders learn to focus on the main purpose of their political dialogue by negotiating the proposed substantive basic principles in the Union Accord as opposed to wasting their times disputing the process design and un-important matters, it is possible that they can still secure agreement before general election in 2020.
Once again, it has to be re-emphasized that the ongoing effort to end armed conflicts in Myanmar through peace process will mean meaningless without securing a substantive Union Accord signed. After all, there is no better alternative avenue than the current imperfect peace process for the system change that Myanmar needs. Therefore, it is necessary that all donors and organizations that support Myanmar peace process should also step up their efforts towards supporting this effort of securing a Union Accord (UA). It is always vital that resources be allocated for the right effort and process. As such, donors also need to be cautious to make sure that their generous funds are not misused by organizations they support to undermine as well as sabotage the formal process and collective endeavor to secure a substantive Union Accord through peace process.