SPEECHES OF STATE COUNSELOR AND PRESIDENT: Union Spirit, ongoing armed conflict and delivering democratic federalism

In February three speeches given by State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi and President Win Myint, on 12 and 13 respectively, should be studied closely so that we would be able to grasp what kind of concept the NLD leadership have in store for the country.

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Aung San Suu Kyi on 73rd anniversary of the Union Day celebration in Panglong | statecounsellor.gov.mm/

One speech each was delivered by the state counselor and the president, the former in a form of message in Panglong, Shan State, and the latter as a message read out by Vice President Myint Swe during the National Union Day event in Naypyitaw respectively, on Union Day, February 12.

On the 13 of February, the 105 anniversary birthday of the late Gen. Aung San, an erection ceremony to unveil an equestrian statue of the general was held, where the president gave a speech which should be read as a reminder to the military or Tatmadaw on how it should behave in a democratic society, to its irritation.

But first let us look at the speech of the state counselor.

The State Counselor

Suu Kyi outlined three themes in her Union Day speech, Union Spirit, ongoing civil war and what could be done to achieve peace to build the democratic federal union.

The first, Union Spirit is a rephrased words which she usually terms a Panglong Spirit. In fact it is the same.

She said when Gen. Aung San and his delegation was bargaining for the granting of independence from the British in January 1947, some Sawbwa council members of the Shan State sent a telegraph to the British government, stating that Gen. Aung San was not a representative of the Shan State. As a result, the discussions came to a halt temporarily. But the youths of the Shan State Independence Association (Shan State Freedom League) held a mass gathering in Taunggyi, and there they made a unanimous decision saying that Gen. Aung San and the delegation were the genuine representatives of the people of Shan State, and then sent a telegram to Gen. Aung San and the British Prime Minister in London. Then the discussions were resumed, once again, and the Aung San-Attlee Agreement, which set a milestone for regaining the independence of Myanmar, was signed on 27th January 1947.

This was the first instance of Union Spirit she said. The second she pointed out was: Freedom will be more speedily achieved by the Shans, the Kachins and the Chins by their immediate co-operation with the Interim Burmese Government, written in Panglong Agreement which she considered to be the Union Spirit.

Another point she highlight was the ongoing civil war from the start of the independence from the British in 1948.

The governments of the successive periods have tried their best to put an end to the armed conflicts and restore peace to our motherland, but have not yet achieved the goals of peace. Ceasefire agreement has been only the highest form of agreement, and the sustainable peace has not yet been built. Why? Because, as our government believes, the political problems among us, which are the root of the problems of the armed conflicts, have not yet been settled, as has been highlighted in the message of the President, she said in her speech.

The third message point what should be done to achieve peace and harmony was: If we make a review of our history, we should not look at each other with the critical eye, putting blame on each other. That’s not the way we can find the right solution to our problems. Don’t look at what’s wrong with them. Look at your own faults. What’s been going wrong with all of us? What are the things we need to mend? That kind of critical point of view should be adopted. Why not adopt the new global views, and look at the union spirit that never grows old or stale? To put an end to our armed conflicts that have been going on over seventy years, we should see what salutary lessons we can gain from the bitter past.

Now let us look at what the president said on two occasions.

The President

A ceremony to mark the 73rd Union Day was organized with the State Flag raising and saluting, in front of Naypyitaw City Hall on February 12.

Vice-President Myint Swe, in his capacity as the Chairman of Union Day Organizing Central Committee, read out the message sent by the President.

The annual ceremony was held with the five objectives:�

All ethnic nationals are to work with collective strength for non-disintegration of the Union, non-disintegration of national unity, perpetuation of national sovereignty

Successful implementation of peace-making process based on Union spirit

Working with collective strength of ethnic nationals for providing law and order, fair justice and safety of the citizens

Promoting socioeconomic development of people by preventing dangers of narcotic drugs as a national task

Striving for the emergence of a Constitution that is in alignment and harmony with the Democratic Federal Union

The following day on February 13, on the occasion of an erection ceremony of the Gen. Aung San’s equestrian statue the president gave a stern speech mainly addressing directly at the Tatmadaw.

The president quoted and mentioned from the book titled Political Classic Book on Gen. Aung San, who was also the founder of the Tatmadaw, who once said: The Burma independence army will not involve itself either in administrative or political affairs. Our soldiers must not be involved with nor interfere with party politics and administrative sectors.

With intention to national unity, he also said The Tatmadaw was founded not for an individual, but for the whole nation. Not for a political party or group, but for the entire national people. This remark reflected his intention as to the nature of the Tatmadaw.

Regarding ethnic affairs, Gen. Aung San supported the paragraph 5 of Panglong Agreement, which includes Full autonomy in internal administration for the Frontier Areas is accepted in principle.

In paragraph 7, the Agreement also said Citizens of the Frontier Areas shall enjoy rights and privileges which are regarded as fundamental in democratic countries.

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Gen Aung San’s statue | Khonumthung News bnionline.net/

Military Response

In response to the president remarks military spokesman Brigadier General Zaw Min Tun said that the military’s involvement in politics is conditional to whether peace is already achieved within the country or not.

The Tatmadaw has been battling various ethnic armed resistance groups almost in all ethnic states for decades with no end in sight. The logic is that if there is no more insurgency the military will go back to the barrack and if not it will stays on. And as the government, mostly seen by many as a pretext for the Tatmadaw to keep the war flames on so that it could wield political clout in national arena, the government could not achieve peace process to end the wars, forge peace, and create a federal democratic union.

Military leaders frequently say that the military’s involvement in politics is determined by the requirements of the time and of the situation, Zaw Min Tun said. The current involvement will only be for a certain period of time. When there is peace and stability in the country, the military will fade out its involvement in politics.

Earlier, at a Tatmadaw press conference on January 23, the vice chairman of the military’s True News Information Team, Major General Tun Tun Nyi, was asked when the military would return to barracks. The general said the Tatmadaw was ready to perform its primary duties only when there was national stability and unity.

If everyone can accept and work in unity for the common, national interest, we will be ready to perform our primary duty, the general added, according to the various media reports.

Actually, it is a sort of catch-22 situation scenario. So long as ethnic insurrection is present, the military will continue to participate in politics as a leading figure, while at the same time it makes sure that the war flames keep on burning through a variety of impossible demands, attacks and blockage of some ethnic resistance movements to participate in the ongoing peace process.

Outlook and Perspectives

Looking at the speeches, let us dwell on Union Spirit or Panglong Spirit first.

Both Suu Kyi and Win Myint emphasized that Union Spirit should to be the glue for reconciliation of all ethnic nationalities.

Suu Kyi portrays that the ethnic nationalities’ wish to gain independence together with the then Burma Proper as Union Spirit, although she didn’t directly spelled out the rights of ethnic self-determination. But Win Myint explicitly mentioned that full autonomy in internal administration as written in Panglong Agreement and has to be observed.

However, both mentioned democratic federal union, which is a bit different from federal democratic union of the ethnic nationalities, at least which should come first in emphasizing the vocabulary of democratic or federal.

In this connection, while unity is essential, the aftermath of independence period has also to be taken into account. And we shouldn’t forget what Gen. Aung San said prior to the drafting of Union of Burma Constitution in 1947. He in effect told his people in Anti-Fascist People’s Freedom League (AFPFL) that secession rights must be given to Shan State and Karenni State but the Bamar politicians had the duty to convince them that they wouldn’t want to secede, due to the benefit which would come by staying within the Union.

Thus, Union Spirit has to be analyzed again with the experience gained from living within the Bamar-led Union and not just blindly stick together even if most of the ethnic states and its population are being occupied, exploited and suppressed, which are not at all in line with the Panglong Agreement.

Likewise, critical questions have to be asked why the civil war has started and why the ethnic nationalities go into armed resistance mode. It is clear that the political space was destructed since the military coup in 1962 and there has been no legal venue, like parliamentary debate, open to settle the disagreement to reach a political settlement through political means until today. This is the sole reason why the civil war still goes on, which is mainly due to the Bamar ethnocentrism and also monopolization of political decision-making power by the Bamar elite and military leadership.

Suu Kyi’s vision to accept Union Spirit, coupled with innovation is generally should be a welcomed approach. But before defining the concept we all have to answer what it really means to all of us.

If the more than seven decades long suffering and suppression are to be taken into account, the Union Spirit vision isn’t a positive experience for the ethnic peoples. Thus, it has to be redefined and new interpretation, coupled with accountability and transparency, have to be agreed upon so that we don’t fall back into confrontation and suppression mode of the past seven decades.

Having courage to explore a new frontier is a good thing. But in short, Union Spirit needs equally shared responsibility and political settlement. And ending civil war needs conceptual about turn of the Bamar political elite and military leaders’ with political will.

Finally, innovation is only meaningful if historical legacies are observed and not abandoning them. For example, not adhering to Panglong Agreement but only applying Panglong Spirit or Union Spirit won’t do any of us good, as can be seen by years of armed conflict with social degradation and hindrance of economic development for the country.

A last reminder of how disheartened one of the Panglong Agreement signatories, U Tin E before he passed away is worth mentioning at this juncture.

He, according to someone close to him, who don’t want to be identified, heard him moaned that the Burmese leaders had gone back on their words (meaning: Panglong Agreement).

Today, most ethnic nationalities, which include all the ethnic political parties, ethnic armed organizations and ethnic civil societies are also of the same opinion as the late well known Shan politician U Tin E. Thus, it is the duty of the Bamar political elites and military leadership to prove them wrong. Otherwise, the same unfulfilled mistakes made for failing to deliver an acceptable federal union system of governance for decades will be repeated and all will again muddle through for many more years to come at the expense of the country and the people who inhabited it.

Source: The Shan Herald Agency for News

Posted in General February 29, 2020