ETHNIC NATIONALITIES COUNCIL (Union of Burma)
|A POSSIBLE TRANSITION PLAN FOR BURMA/MYANMAR|
A POSSIBLE TRANSITION PLAN FOR BURMA/MYANMAR
The latest World Bank report underlines the gravity of the situation in Burma/Myanmar. It has taken 38 years of gradual decline to reach this level of devastation. No government, democratic or military can hope to solve the problems in the short-term. Massive and sustained international aid will be required for many years to come in order to turn the country around. No short cut solutions with the injection of a few hundred million dollars in investments or aid will work.
The political deadlock makes it impossible for anyone to even begin to address the problems. It may be possible for the current regime to maintain the status quo for some time yet. But the longer the problems persists, the less it will benefit the people. As the situation deteriorates further, Burma/Myanmar’s sovereignty and territorial integrity may also be compromised. It is no longer a question of whether it is a military or a democratic government that will rule.
The whole nation, the military, the democratic forces and the ethnic nationalities need to be mobilized to work together to reverse the situation. The international community also needs to mount a sustained and coordinated effort to encourage the Burmese/Myanmar people to talk to each other and work together to rebuild their nation. Independent highly publicized short-term efforts by individual nations or individuals only confuse the picture, are not particularly helpful and may even be counter-productive.
The question is how to break the political deadlock and bring the various political actors together? It is clear that the future of Burma/Myanmar is at stake.
For any transition plan to work, the following points must be emphasized and respected:
1. The problem is essentially a Burmese/Myanmar problem,
2. Only the Burmese/Myanmar themselves can ultimately resolve their problems satisfactorily for the long-term.
3. The international community is willing to support the Burmese/Myanmar in their efforts to try and resolve together, the serious problems they face.
4. The international community will only assist to the extent requested – i.e. hosting negotiations in a neutral third country, facilitating talks or if required, mediation. The Burmese/Myanmar themselves will decide what they require.
5. A solution unacceptable to one or more of the parties will not be imposed.
6. There is a solution to the problems if the Burmese/Myanmar have the political will.
7. Basic to this plan is the preservation of Burma/Myanmar’s sovereignty and territorial integrity
8. The ultimate aim is to see democracy established in Burma/Myanmar. This goal is acceptable to all parties in the conflict.
9. The plan is based on the principle that dialogue, negotiations and political compromises, instead of coercion or force, are necessary if democracy is to be established and brought to maturity in Burma/Myanmar.
10. The plan does not apportion blame and seeks to reconcile differences.
For the plan to work, the various political players must be convinced as follows:
Democratic leaders have to be convinced that an immediate return to democracy will not solve Burma/Myanmar’s deep-rooted problems. Basic social infrastructures need to be rebuilt to sustain the change. It will take time, political will, and resources both human and material to get the job done. Popular and unrealistic expectations could in the short-term cause many to become disillusioned with a democracy.
Ethnic leaders need to be convinced that they have more to gain by remaining within the Union of Burma/Myanmar and voluntarily working out their own political future to their satisfaction than by opting out as an independent entity. They need to be convinced that participating actively in the political transition process in Burma/Myanmar is to their best advantage.
Military leaders need to be convinced that they can no longer continue to hold on to power by force. It is not economically or politically sustainable. The situation can only deteriorate further. The military will then have to suppress the unrest by more force, which will be even harder to sustain. The fear that without a strong hand, the nation will disintegrate may prevent the military from negotiating. They need to be convinced that if they want to preserve the nation, the military needs to work with the rest of the country, not against it.
The danger is that although the political actors in Burma/Myanmar realize that change is required in order to prevent the situation from deteriorating further, they may not realize the extent of the problem. They may be tempted with some small amounts of foreign aid from one or two sources to attempt a quick-fix solution, which may alleviate symptoms but ultimately lead to a worse situation.
The Transition Plan:
In order to allay suspicions, distrust and fear of hidden political agendas, it will be beneficial if all concerned parties can first agree on how a transition will develop and how their concerns will be addressed. The following is an attempt to outline such a plan.
1. Unofficial talks to determine areas of common concern
This step has already been taken by various Burmese/Myanmar actors and is continuing informally and in utmost secrecy. This process needs to be recognized and integrated with international efforts. The international community should also not send conflicting signals, which can derail or have a negative impact on these initial efforts by the Burmese/Myanmar themselves. Publicity should at this stage be avoided at all costs.
2. Official Agreement to enter into Negotiations
If the international community supports the unofficial Burmese/Myanmar initiative and coordinate its own efforts to encourage all parties in the Burmese/Myanmar conflict to accept a framework similar to the one outlined here, official agreement to enter into negotiations will definitely follow. The political actors have to date been distracted by various international offers of help. This has slowed the informal process as each new external initiative is evaluated by the actors to see if it offers a more palatable way out. There is only one way out – an all inclusive political dialogue, negotiations, compromises, and a transition. The sooner this message is driven home, the sooner they will get to the negotiation table.
3. Official low-level Pre-Negotiations to determine Objectives/ Conditions/ Participants/ Agenda/ Time-Table/ & Procedures, etc, including the steps outlined below.
This step will enable wider participation from all sides (it can start as a bilateral process between the SPDC and NLD) to test the waters and re-evaluate their own positions to see what issues they are willing to compromise on and what are non-negotiable. It is important at this stage that the issues under discussion are not publicized and politicized. If this happens, this will kill the process. It must be emphasize that the parties are at this stage only negotiating a process and a possible time-table for the process that will be acceptable to all parties. They are not as yet negotiating the substance, or making political compromises. Confidence building measures could be negotiated and built into the process at this stage.
4. Lifting of political restrictions to facilitate Negotiations
For the Pre-Negotiations and Negotiations to really work, the military must be willing to lift some political restrictions to enable the other parties, especially the NLD to function properly. Effective negotiations cannot take place if one party is seriously disadvantaged. It is obvious that the NLD must convince the military that it is committed to this transition plan and dialogue process and will not use its political freedom to rally the country against the military or use it to implement the results of the 1990 general elections. Apart from political activities, lifting restrictions and controls on other social and civil society activities might also be considered.
The 1990 election results will be a key negotiating item between the SPDC and the NLD. While the military may wish to ignore the results, the NLD cannot possibly relinquish them because it represents a mandate freely given by the people. For the same reasons, the military cannot accept the 1990 election results. Recognizing these facts, a compromise needs to be worked out whereby the election results are recognized by the military but the NLD does not use them to take-over power. The NLD’s election mandate can be used to legitimize the negotiations and the proposed Transition Administration. In return, the military must accept that neither the SLORC nor the SPDC are transition govermments that they claim to be. A 10-year plus transition period claimed by SPDC cannot qualify as a transition. Democratic governments do not normally exceed a 5-year term.
6. Formation of an Interim Administration to oversee the Transition.
Apart from the question of the 1990 election results, how the Transition Administration will be formed, who will be included, under what constitution or regulations will the Transition Administration govern, what is its main task, how long it will govern, what powers it will have over the military, etc, will be the substance of the negotiations.
7. Political normalization as agreed by all sides.
This will be another major item to negotiate. To achieve political normalization, the military must be confident that all the parties will not gang-up against it. Again, they need to be convinced that all parties are committed to the process and will not deviate from it for short-term political gain. Without political normalization, the Transition Administration will only be another form of SPDC-rule with some NLD and others co-opted into the regime. Without political normalization, the political process cannot be all inclusive. If the process is not all inclusive, the objective of establishing a stable democracy in Burma/Myanmar cannot be achieved.
8. Nation-wide cease-fire/ General amnesty for all sides
Nation-wide cease-fires and a general amnesty are essential and necessary measures for political normalization. Without a general cease-fires and an amnesty, the armed groups cannot be included in the political process. If they are not included, it means that Burma/Myanmar will continue to face years of rebellion and violence. On the other hand, the general amnesty could also work for the generals and officers accused of human rights abuses and other misdeeds.
9. International Financial Assistance to facilitate step no.10
This step will be necessary if Step No.10 is to be undertaken. The support of the international community becomes crucial at this point. It might perhaps be necessary at the beginning of the Transition Process for the international community to guarantee that at the appropriate time, it will step in to provide the necessary financial assistance to implement the regional development and social rehabilitation programmes.
10. Regional development and social rehabilitation programmes nation-wide
It is not enough that the Transition Administration opens up the political process. In order to convince people that problems must be resolved by political means, the Transition Administration must also be able to visibly deliver social and economic benefits. This is especially true for the ethnic people who have suffered years of devastation. Their faith in and their commitment to the Transition process must yield material as well as political benefits if they are to be convinced that remaining in the Union of Burma/Myanmar is to their advantage. Demobilization in Step No.12 will also be more attractive if soldiers on both sides see that there are other easier ways to earn a living.
11. National Convention to draft a new Constitution
The SLORC/SPDC’s National Convention and constitution, the 1990 NLD constitution, the 1974 Socialist Constitution, the 1947 Union constitution, and the NCUB Federal constitution, all need to be debated and discussed. The role of the military in politics will be a key factor to be discussed and negotiated. However, there are grounds to believe that all parties generally agree that a negotiated transition to democracy is desirable. In this context, the SPDC must be willing to negotiate how the military can participate in the political process in Burma/Myanmar without reserving a special role for the military, which is not compatible with a democracy.
12. Demobilization, security integration, peace-building
As mentioned in Step No.10, demobilization and security integration may be easier to undertake if material benefits from an alternate lifestyle are obvious. Without demobilization, the national referendum on the new constitution and the subsequent general elections will have little meaning. Armed men marauding freely around the country are not conducive to free and fair elections. Security integration and peace-building will be key items to negotiate with the ethnic peoples of Burma/Myanmar.
13. National referendum on the new Constitution
If the Transition Administration has been successful in implementing an all inclusive political process, been able to deliver improved regional development and social rehabilitation programmes and successfully demobilized the armed groups, the national referendum should not be a difficult process. International observers, etc, could be invited to allay fears and suspicions.
14. General Elections
Again, if the previous steps have been more or less successful, a general election should pose no particular difficulties.
15. Transfer of power to the Elected Government
As with the referendum and general elections, this step should merely be a formality but perhaps it would be the real test to see if the Transition Administration will hand over power.
[The above should not be seen as a proposal being put forward by any one party. The plan is a summary or distillation of various proposals and contains common elements acceptable to all concerned.
This plan is workable if no one Burmese group claims ownership and, if the international community agrees to work together and firmly support it instead of following a single nation’s particular agenda].
NO SECRET DEAL
In response to concerns expressed by non-Burman ethnic leaders about the secret meetings held between the leader of the National League for Democracy Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and Senior General Than Shwe, Chairman of the State Law and Order Restoration Council, and Secretary 1 Lieut-General Khin Nyunt in September and again with Khin Nyunt in October 1994, Dr Michael Aris released the following statement in Bangkok on 23 January 1995:
“It has always been the firm conviction of those working for democracy in Burma that it is only through meaningful dialogue between diverse political forces that we can achieve national reconciliation, which is the first and most vital requisite for a united and prosperous country.
That the international community shares this view is evident from clause 5 of the General Assembly resolution of December 1994 which encourages the Government of Burma to engage ‘in a substantive political dialogue with Aung San Suu Kyi and other political leaders, including representatives from ethnic groups, as the best means of promoting national reconciliation and the full and early restoration of democracy.’
It was in full acceptance of this view and with genuine good will that I approached the meeting with members of the State Law and Order Restoration Council on 20 September and 28 October 1994.
There have not been and there will not be any secret deals with regard either to my release or to any other issue. I adhere to the principle of accountability and consider myself at all times bound by the democratic duty to act in consultation with colleagues and to be guided by the aspirations of those engaged in the movement to establish a truly democratic political system in Burma. I remain dedicated to an active participation in this movement.”
Aung San Suu Kyi
22 January 1995
Note: As a result of Dr Michael Aris’ role in publicizing Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s position regarding the 1994 talks with SLORC, he was barred from visiting his wife. Dr Aris died on 27 March 1999 in England of cancer without ever seeing her again.
The Ethnic Nationalities Council (ENC) was originally established as the “Ethnic Nationalities Solidarity and Cooperation Committee” (ENSCC) in August 2001.