Monday, July 24, 2017

UPDJC agree on self-determination proposal for individual states

Members of the Union Peace Dialogue Joint Committee (UPDJC) have agreed to put a policy proposal that suggests that states and regions have the right to draw their own constitutions in future.

This will be put into the agenda to be discussed in the upcoming second round of the 21st Century Panglong Conference (21CPC).

Some members of the tripartite UPDJC said that the move was “extraordinary”, and hoped that the conference which will commence on May 24 would produce good results. The joint committee includes representatives of the government (including the Tatmadaw), political parties and eight signatory armed groups to the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA).

The meeting of the joint committee was held on May 12 in Nay Pyi Taw where State Counsellor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, who also chairs the UPDJC, urged stakeholders to have “willingness for peace”.

U Zaw Htay, Director General at the State Counsellor’s Office, told reporters after the event that the UPDJC have agreed to a decision to allow the states and regions to exercise their rights of self-determination.

“Having states and regions prepare their own charters is one of the basic federal principles. We have never had such an agreement before. For self-determination, we all have agreed that states and regions shall have their own constitutions,” he said.

As with the agreement, though states and regions are granted the right to draw their own constitutions, the central government would likely remain as a powerful player if there arises constitutional disputes between the Union and the states or regions.

U Khun Okkar, patron of Pa-O National Liberation Organization, a signatory group, said harmony between the charters of the Union and that of states or regions, was important, with the latter’s power confined to their specific territory.

“But, there are rules. The constitution of any state or region must not be contradictory to that of the Union. They should also be exercised only in the territory of their states. For instance, the constitution for Kachin State has no power over issues outside the state,” said U Khun Okkar.

The proposal, together with 41 other points of agreement, mostly for political issues, agreed by UPDJC, has yet to pass the 21CPC for discussion where 700 representatives will exchange their perspectives and undergo decision-making.

Some ethnic politicians and political analysts have warned though, that making such an important move needs consensus taking by more participants, otherwise there could be a dispute in the future between peace negotiators of the government and non-signatory groups.

In addition to granting states and regions a chance to draw their own charters, stakeholders should come up with a plan to make changes to the 2008 Constitution, said U Than Soe Naing, a political analyst.

“It seems that the Tatmadaw is changing its stance by allowing these matters to a certain extent. However, the truth is that the military wants the least amount of constitutional changes as possible. We cannot have a functional federalism unless we have effective power sharing. This is different from just letting the states or regions write their own charters,” he said.

States and regions cannot have their own written charters despite having their respective legislatures, which political analysts have often argued to be a for-show, as if there is power sharing between the Union and the states or regions. The military establishment has defended that as one of the key characteristics of federalism in a booklet circulated to the attendants of the first round of the 21CPC.

Many political pundits say that the areas granted by the 2008 charter for legislation by states or regions are too limited, with the central government and union parliament taking a bigger portion of legislative and executive authority. The selection of chief ministers of states or regions comes from the president. Ethnic political parties want the selection to be conducted by state and regional parliaments.

U Sai Nyunt Lwin of the Shan Nationalities League for Democracy said taking such an agreement, of which effect, would encompass the whole country, and needs a wider range of participants.

“What if the other groups are not involved in UPDJC’s meeting, like the non-signatory groups or those that have not yet held national-level dialogues, then it would be a problem at a later time,” he said.

He also said that the more important matter is the sharing of power between the Union and states or regions.

Concerning the inclusion of the groups that have not signed the NCA, the UPDJC have agreed on May 12 to invite them as “special guests”.

As with the currently accepted framework by the government and armed ethnic groups, only the resistance organisations that sign the NCA can enjoy political dialogues and national-level talks.

U Zaw Htay also said some ethnic armed groups that would sign the Deed of Commitment with the administration ahead of the 21CPC to continue peace negotiation on the NCA-based course, could be granted the status of participants at the 21CPC.