BURMA ANALYSIS 2003

By Chao-Tzang Yawnghwe

November – A

Dialogue: From International to Home-Grown

Since the May (2003) ambush in Monywa of Daw Aung San Suukyi’s motorcade by the regime, there has arisen two contending views of the prospect for dialogue and national reconciliation. They concern the question of whether  there can be a home-grown solution or other solution requiring significant external inputs in order to resolve the long state-society conflict in Burma.

One section of the democratic movement takes the position that the May ambush no longer makes it possible for a home-grown resolution of the conflict to succeed.  As a result some elements of the movement have been pushing for multi-national and/or US intervention as in Bosnia, Kosovo, Afghanistan, and Iraq. They say that the May ambush amply proves that the junta  the SPDC (State Peace and Development Council)  is “insincere” and “bad, bad, bad”.  This implies that whatever the SPDC does or says, has no credibility, leaving no room for meaningful negotiations.

On the other hand, ASEAN leaders and the Thai government -- Burma’s neighbors  maintain that the “democratization” roadmap unveiled in September by the newly appointed Prime Minister, General Khin Nyunt, may represent a tentative beginning of a home-grown, viable peace process.  

This home-grown “democratization” roadmap revolves around the re-convening of the National Convention unilaterally designed and coercively imposed by the military junta  in 1992.

That process has, however, withered on the vine and was consigned to limbo because the junta failed to achieve its objectives, despite the fact that it filled the “convention” with hand-picked delegates. Resistance within the convention by the Shan Nationalities League for Democracy (SNLD) led by Khun Tun Oo,  and the subsequent boycott by the delegates of the NLD (National League for Democracy) in 1996, hastened the demise (albeit temporary, as it turns out) of SLORC’s “home-grown” transition or “democratization” process.

The attempt by Prime Minister Khin Nyunt to retrieve this process from limbo has been hailed by the Thai Prime Minister, Khun Thaksin  along with other neighboring leaders and governments  as going in the right direction. Thaksin has also worked behind the scene to get China and India on board. In addition he been engaged in lobbying Burma’s ethnic nationalities (non-Burman) armed forces actively engaged in combat with the SPDC, to participate in Khin Nyunt’s home-grown process.

According to well-informed observers of the armed ethnic groups, namely, the Karen, Karenni, and Shan,  it will be most difficult for them to oppose the Thai Prime Minister’s effort to get them to participate in Khin Nyunt’s “home grown” process.

As well, the ethnic nationalities both inside the country and those operating  along the borders of Burma with Thailand, Bangladesh, and India have  despite the May ambush  reiterated their commitment to national reconciliation and tripartite dialogue. The ENSCC (Ethnic Nationalities Solidarity and Cooperation Committee), a committee of top leaders and their advisors working with all non-Burman groups and forces  armed, political, social, religious -- inside and outside Burma, has also unveiled its “roadmap” for democratization in September, a few days after Khin Nyunt’s.

The ENSCC’s roadmap proposes a transition and dialogue process which calls for a National Unity Congress to be composed of the election-winning parties, the SPDC, and all significant non-Burman leaders and representatives (inside and outside). The ENSCC roadmap also calls for an interim arrangement where the present government will continue to govern and facilitate the negotiation process, in conjunction with the United Nations, neighboring and other governments (presumably, including the United States), and regional groupings like ASEAN and the European Union.  In its second or final phase, the ENSCC initiative calls for a constitutional assembly to draft a new Union Constitution based on a federal arrangement, and new elections to establish a government for a Union of Burma that is democratic, equitable, and peaceful.   

One of the main challenges to implementing any roadmap is the issue of inclusiveness and participation. With regard to the participation of the non-Burman leaders and forces in the so-called National Convention, the stumbling block  with regard to the SPDC  is the issue of inclusion.  

Critics of Khin Nyunt’s initiative  including Kofi Annan -- have pointed out that it is not sustainable, and will not be meaningful, if Daw Suukyi and the NLD are not included, and if the process is not transparent and democratic. The  joint-statement of the ceasefire armies in October expressed such a view as well, and it also reflects the position of other non-Burman forces as well. This statement was issued, surprisingly, by the UWSA (United Wa State Army) and leaders of two special ceasefire regions, thought to be close to Khin Nyunt.

Given a situation where Khin Nyunt’s roadmap is aimed at achieving “democratization” in a closed process and a restrictive environment, Prime Minister Thaksin, who apparently has close relations with his Burmese counterpart, has a very big load to carry.

The heaviest and the most crucial load for him is, not only the task of persuading Prime Minister Khin Nyunt to be open and pragmatic, but also to strengthen his position vis-à-vis the SPDC, and to establish the government in Burma as a meaningful decision-making body, one that is in command of the armed forces and elements within it.

It is likely that Prime Minister Thaksin will approach the Burmese democratization problem with his usual “can-do” competence, pragmatism, diplomatic skills and political savvy. Supporting this image of Prime Minister Thaksin as a positive and constructive force, is the planned regional conference on Burma, which would likely include the participation of China.

This conference on Burma and “democratization” will  among other things  legitimate Khin Nyunt’s initiative, give it a mantle of being  “home-grown”.  One significant and likely result of this process will be the de-internationalizing of Burma’s politics and its insulation from the global arena. This would lead in turn to a situation where the UN, the United States, EU governments will be left behind, like so many shadows floating  on the fringe.

The de-internationalization of Burma issues, and the “home grown” cordon created and protected by neighboring governments will certainly strengthen Khin Nyunt’s hand in particular, and perhaps even contribute to the greater autonomy of the government from the military’s political council (i.e., the junta of generals).  

What is interesting is the push by neighboring governments to politically insulate Burma and Khin Nyunt’s “democratization” process from the international arena. This insulation will likely cause the ethnic Burman democratic opposition (operating outside) and the NLD inside to more strongly and vigorously oppose the SPDC’s so-called home-grown  “democratization” process.   It is probable that Daw Suukyi herself will reject any “home grown” process that will in her view be one-sided, opaque, and repressive.

This will most likely give rise to a situation where those forces inside  especially the non-Burman  will either have to withdraw from or boycott the ongoing “national convention” process or to continue working within this “home grown” framework.

The problem for the non-Burman ethnic nationalities inside is that the withdraw/boycott option is a “no, no”, a non-flier, all the more so if the international community cannot offer a non-“home grown” option.  They are inside and are, in fact, the frontline troops who, as such, cannot run away from the battle zone.

What could come out therefore of the “home-grown” approach of the two Prime Ministers  Thaksin and Khin Nyunt --  is what would appear to observers as a serious  “fissure” in the ranks of the democratic movement. However, it must be recalled  kept clearly in mind  that the common aim of all elements within the movement is tripartite dialogue, and there is, besides, a strong commitment to democratic transition and nation-building based on the Panglong Spirit (or federalism).

“Fissures” within the movement and as well within the military camp is natural, even inevitable -- such is the nature of any political process that is dynamic, that moves forward, and is not stuck in a stagnant, decayed, and rigid status-quo.  The key to progress, to achieving one’s goal, lies in the capacity of leaders to build bridges, mend fences, strike bargains, adapt to changes and new challenges, and most importantly, to build unity from diversity.  Those who worry about fissures associated with or inherent in the dynamics of political interaction, or are over-anxious about unity (however conceived), betray a very static, carved-in-stone kind of view about politics.

In conclusion,  political change and achieving national reconciliation in Burma, depends on whether the UN, the US, the EU, etc., will go along passively and timidly with the “home grown” formula (more by being silent than anything else), or whether they will come up with an alternative approach or initiative.

Success for any process of political change (or transition) in Burma  in the direction of democratization to which the SPDC claims to be committed to as well  and the sustainability of the outcomes  will necessarily  depend on the focus of the international community on the problems, conflict, and issues that have confronted  the peoples of Burma for many dismal decades.

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