Problems ahead for Myanmar’s peace process

Peace conferences due to begin in January will be prolonged and protracted because they involve too many participants and too many groups.

The Union Political Dialogue Joint Committee has approved the draft framework for negotiations on a future federal union that are due to start by mid-January in the next phase of the country’s peace process.

The committee agreed following debate on December 15 that the Union Peace Conference would involve the participation of 700 representatives.

U Khun Htun Oo, the chairman of the Shan Nationalities League for Democracy, and General Gun Maw, the deputy commander of the Kachin Independence Army, have expressed doubts about the dialogue, saying it might be have too many participants to be effective, like the convention that drafted the 2008 Constitution.

I would like to discuss the draft framework for political dialogue and its chances for success. It is worth mentioning that the National League for Democracy has been involved in the process as an observer and not a full participant.

The framework consists of an introduction and nine chapters.

There are three salient points in the framework, including the provision that future peace conferences will be attended by 700 people, which is an unwieldy number of participants. The group that will lay down the key policies for political dialogue is the UPDJC, which has hinted that the process may be prolonged and protracted. “If the terms in the Union agreement were not fully implemented in the term of a government, the next government must continue the work,” it says.

The first salient point is the ratio or proportion of the various groups of participants in the peace conference. The military, armed ethnic groups and political parties will each have 150 representatives, the government and the parliament will each have 75, and there will be 50 non-military ethnic leaders. Another 50 seats will be reserved for “other invitees”.

There are too many participants and too many groups. Those with the most right to be involved in national affairs, including drafting a constitution, are the people’s elected representatives.

But as Myanmar is yet to become a fully democratic country, any discussion about peace and federalism must also involve the Tatmadaw and members of ethnic armed groups.

To be effective and fruitful, the dialogue need only involve the Tatmadaw, ethnic armed groups and elected MPs.

The peace conferences will be arranged by the UPDJC, with which the NLD does not agree. The UPDJC is composed of equal numbers of representatives from the government, Tatmadaw, ethnic armed groups and political parties. There are more than 90 political parties and they have equal status rather than being represented on the basis of their parliamentary representation. This is why the NLD does not agree with the composition of the UPDJC, an issue that is likely to be a problem in future.

Time will also be a problem. The framework provides for the peace conferences to be held every four months and that if the process is not accomplished in the term of a government, it will be continued by the next government. But with too many participants and differences over representation, the process is likely to be prolonged. It the process involved the most effective, compact group – comprising elected MPs, the Tatmadaw and ethnic armed groups – it would be faster.

The draft that resulted in the national ceasefire agreement was a product of correct representation in the negotiating process. The model chosen for the ceasefire talks needs to be applied to the process for drafting the framework for political dialogue or there will be problems ahead.

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