On 7th September 2018, the Democratic Voice of Burma (DVB) conducted an Academy Debate focusing on “From Military Rule to Democracy” in Myanmar. Thura U Shwe Mann (former General who was one of the top leaders during the former military government, and currently Chair of the Pyidaungsu Hluttaw’s Legal Affairs and Special Issues Assessment Commission) was the speaker. Thura U Shwe Mann has attempted to find way for a complete democratic transition in Myanmar. Just one week after his talk, the Radio Free Asia (RFA) also interviewed U Ye Htut (the former Minister for Information of Myanmar). During the interview, U Ye Htut gave some interesting comments on Thura U Shwe Mann’s talk.
During the talk, Thura U Shwe Mann sincerely and publicly recognized “democracy” as the political system that would serve the people of Myanmar best. He also pointed out that democracy that aligns with the desire of the people, the challenges of the situation of the country would be the best model. He said that democratic transition in Myanmar is possible, but it requires constitutional reforms supported by national reconciliation. He identified building mutual trust between the civilian government and the military through conducting meetings among people’s leaders as key to bring complete democratic transition and national reconciliation. Thura U Shwe Mann seemed to espouse the idea that a leader who can build such mutual trust between the civilian government and the military should be selected for he pointed out that Myanmar needs to identify and select a leader who would be able to amend the constitution including the 25 percent seats reserved for the military. It looks that the present civilian government in Myanmar and the Army exist like separate entities. More importantly, the main political agendas of the NLD-led government and the military are incompatible with each other, as the former concentrates on a constitutional reform while the later on its protection.
Surprisingly, Thura U Shwe Mann failed to find ways to connect the constitutional reform and national reconciliation to the ongoing peace process that seeks the constitutional amendment through the result of the political dialogue. Regarding Myanmar’s democratic transition from the 2008 constitution, he pointed out that the 2008 constitution was drafted to protect the security and safety of the former military leaders. He even added that some of the former military leaders are feeling insecure for what they have done in the past. He also pointed out that Myanmar has experienced unfulfilled promises in the past. For examples, the promise to transfer power from the military rule to the democratically elected government in 1990 was not fulfilled. Similarly, the promise of Panglong in 1947 to increase greater autonomy to the state governments and equality in social economic development have not been fulfilled as well. The failure to fulfill such promises in the past is likely to threaten some of the former military leaders today, and indeed it can even be one of the main sources of mistrust among the people in the country. Hence, democratic transition in Myanmar looks to take time.
During the RFA interview, U Ye Htut said that he disagreed with Thura Shwe Mann regarding the intention of drafting the 2008 constitution by arguing that the article 445 was prescribed to protect the security and safety of the military leaders, including public servants in the former military government. The article 445 says, “No proceeding shall be instituted against the said Councils (the State Law and Order Restoration Council and the State Peace and Development Council) or any member thereof or any member of the Government, in respect of any act done in the execution of their respective duties.” U Ye Htut interpreted this article that although this article would protect the military including the public servants in the former military government, this would not protect any one from corruption case, stealing case and so on during that time. His mentioning of this particular article sounds like a reminder to convince the people not to try to amend this article in the future.
U Ye Htut observed that mutual trust between the NLD-led Government and the military has not been developed as expected after the NLD has assumed power since 2015. He analyzed that a lack of such mutual trust is problematic in resolving political problems in the country, including the Rakhine issue. For the prospect of NLD win in 2020 election, he predicted that if the NLD wins in the next election with a landslides like the previous election, the outcome of the election could negatively have severe impact on the process of a democratic transition, national reconciliation, and peace process. There could even be more problems in the country than before.
In connection to Thura U Shwe Mann political leadership in the future, U Yet Htut said that the source of Thura U Shwe Mann’s popularity mainly comes from his good relationship and political alliance with Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, and could also be successful in politics only when Daw Aung San Suu Kyi supported him.
Apparently, U Ye Htut believed that strengthening the ethnic political parties to secure more seats in their respective states in 2020 election is so essential to move forward to achieve democratic transition, national reconciliation and federalism as demanded by the ethnic leaders.
At present, all state and regional governments in Myanmar are NLD. More importantly, majority of ethnic political parties are not allowed to join the ongoing political dialogue in the country because they did not win any single seat in the 2015 election.
Indeed, what is apparent in the interview of Thura U Shwe Mann and U Ye Htut is that building up mutual trust between the civilian government in Myanmar and the military including the ethnic political leaders is key to achieve a complete democratic transition, national reconciliation and peace in Myanmar. However, if we look back the past political history of Myanmar, it becomes clear that the failure of Panglong Agreement to increase greater autonomy and equality to the state governments is the original source of mistrust, doubts and suspicions people have had of each other. Fulfilling the promises of Panglong Agreement is believed to be the key to build up mutual trust among the people, and remove mistrust, doubts and suspicion from the minds of the people.
Fulfillment of Panglong Agreement (1947) is believed to have the capacity to automatically bring a complete democratic transition, national reconciliation and peace without hurting anyone, including the Army and the Ethnic Armed Organizations.
Of course, finding a leader who could build a solid mutual trust among the political leaders in the country through a concrete action is greatly required and this is also a big challenge in Myanmar. Strengthening ethnic political parties by allowing and increasing ethnic leaders’ participation in the political dialogue while at the same time convincing the people to have patience throughout the transition period appears to be really essential and important.
Thura U Shwe Mann DBV Talk is available at: https://goo.gl/PdTsDL
U Ye Thut RFA Interview is available at: https://goo.gl/t5fty9