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Ethnic Aspirations Not Exclusively Tied to the 2015 Elections

By Burma Partnership  •  October 13, 2015

Election for Ethnic Equality CoverOn Friday 9 October, 2015, Burma Partnership released the report Elections for Ethnic Equality? A Snapshot of Ethnic Perspectives on the 2015 Elections at the Royal Rose Restaurant, Rangoon. The report highlights the need for institutional and structural reforms of governance to be implemented that reduce the power of the Burma Army and devolve power to Region and State Parliaments as a priority for ethnic communities. Otherwise, elections will not be able to make substantive changes to the communities’ lives.

The report states that there are two key obstacles towards realizing ethnic aspirations: the power of the Burma Army and the centralization of power. Both of these are enshrined in the 2008 Constitution. The Burma Army has control over three key ministries: Border Affairs, Defence, and Home Affairs at national level Executive, as well as 25% allocation of seats in national and subnational Parliaments. Furthermore, it has far reaching influence in the day to day governance and administration right down to village level, through the General Administration Department which is under the military controlled, Ministry of Home Affairs. Regarding the centralization of power, Region and State Parliaments have very little political, budgetary or administrative power, while the Chief Minister of each State and Region Parliament is appointed by the President. Thus, in the upcoming 2015 elections, even if ethnic political parties won every seat they contested, their power to make substantive change to the communities they represent will still be restricted unless the structures of governance are changed.

Speaking at the launch of the report, Sai Nyunt Lwin, General-Secretary of the Shan Nationalities League for Democracy said, “The 2015 elections are undoubtedly a very important event in the history of Burma, but for every ethnic community, these elections must go hand in hand with political reforms that address structural inequality and the disproportionate power of the Burma Army that has had devastating effects in ethnic areas for decades.”

The report also highlights that for many ethnic communities, the peace process is as, if not more important, than the 2015 elections to realize the aspirations of ethnic communities: ethnic equality, self-determination and a federal system of governance. Ethnic armed organizations (EAOs) and ethnic political parties have broadly similar aims, but their methods of achieving them are vastly different. Thus there are two concurrent processes happening, the parliamentary elections, and the peace process.

This analysis and recommendations in the report coincide with the latest developments in the signing of the nationwide ceasefire agreement (NCA). The Restoration Council of Shan State has agreed to become the eighth EAO to sign the NCA, but many major armed groups are still not on board. This has drawn a fierce reaction from the Burma Army, as the Shan State Progressive Party positions’ came under heavy military fire as a retaliation for not submitting to the Burma Government’s uncompromising approach to the peace process. Attempting to bully and intimidate EAOs into submission, as the Burma Army has been doing, does not reflect a genuine political will to address ethnic grievances and engage in the peace process transparently and with sincere intent for peace.

The report outlines how the aspirations of ethnic communities are not necessarily tied to the 2015 elections. It is important to recognize the importance of a genuine peace process as hugely significant for many communities, especially given the recent aggression by the Burma Army, while also stressing the need to make essential changes that place the Burma Army under civilian control and devolve power to ethnic areas. The international community must recognize this and continue to apply necessary pressure to the current and any future incarnation of the Burma Government to implement much needed reforms that work towards establishing a federal system of governance. Regardless of the outcome of the 2015 elections, the future government must immediately address these issues, otherwise the legitimacy of the electoral process in ethnic nationality areas could become permanently damaged, ethnic communities’ grievances will remain unresolved, and peace and national reconciliation will still be a far-fetched dream.

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This post is in: 2015 Burma Elections, Blog

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