The people of Burma have been longing for a peaceful and prosperous
country since the 1948 independence victory. But regrettably, the
nation's independence hero General Aung San was assassinated a year
ahead of liberation. As a result, civil wars throughout the nation came
forward with the independence offered by British colonial rule.
In fact, General Aung San and the leaders of Chin, Kachin and Shan
ethnic groups had guaranteed a genuine federal union of Burma by signing
the Panglong Agreement on Feb. 12, 1947. The said agreement accepted
the representatives of ethnic states to administer their own affairs in
areas of economy, judiciary, education, and customs and so on.
However, Burma's 66-year-old historic Panglong Agreement has been
ignored by the consecutive regimes. The said agreement has been
disregarded by the military leaders as they did not support "Federalism'
since 1962. The military extremists blame the federalism as an idea of
The late dictator, Ne Win, who seized power in a military coup in
1962, strongly opposed sharing equal power with other respective ethnic
nationals. Ne Win supported a unitary state rather than a genuine
federal union. The Military Council headed by Ne Win declared that the
military coup had taken place because of the ethnic secessionist idea or
federalism, which he translated, could lead to the disintegration of
Equality of ethnic minorities with the Burman majority was to him
unacceptable. When Ne Win seized power, he did away with the 1948
Constitution. At the same time, the Panglong Agreement, which promised
autonomy or self-determination of the ethnic groups, was broken and
The head of the previous junta, Sen-Gen Than Shwe had followed the
example of his precursor Gen. Ne Win who fortified the single unitary
state. In addition, Gen. Than Shwe was no different either. Under
Sen-Gen Than Shwe's command, the controversial 2008 Constitution was
drawn up but criticized as an undemocratic and anti-federalism charter
Afterward, the current President Thein Sein government took office by
swearing to defend the 2008 Constitution. It indicates the current
regime also is no different to its predecessors. It seems opposing
autonomy or self-determination of the ethnic groups while it has to
defend the latest constitution. The question is the central government
has no intention of power-sharing with the respective state and
divisional administrations. In fact, federalism is no other than an idea
of decentralization of the central government's supremacy.
"All the armed forces in the union shall be under the command of the
Defense Services," says section 337 of the 2008 constitution. It means
ethnic armed troops have to obey the central government's military
The current government standpoint is that the ethnic groups must dump
their stubborn attitude of grasping the principle of Panglong
Agreement. They also want the ethnic groups to be faithful to the
military-backed government's unitary state policy rather than the
federal union system. Actually, it means they must lay down their arms
together with their hope for autonomy.
The government has stayed away from declaring a nationwide ceasefire
to establish a true peaceful nation. If it was sincere, it would stop
all self-styled area-cleaning offensives in ethnic territories in favor
of grand dialogue to show it has a serious will to reconcile.
Several ethnic leaders think that if not for the historic Panglong
Agreement there would not have been the Union of Burma/Myanmar. The said
Panglong Agreement between the non-Burman leaders and General Aung San
was the foundation of Union of Burma or Myanmar.
If the Panglong Agreement was not signed, the country would have been
divided into two parts: Burma and the Frontier Areas, the late Shan
leader U Shwe Ohn, a participant at the Panglong Conference, wrote in
his "Toward the Third Union of Burma" (1993). He also believed that
Burma would become independent in 1948, while the Frontier Areas would
continue to remain under British rule. Federated Shan States was a part,
and that would also have been an independent country by now, U Shwe Ohn
If General Aung San did not promise equal opportunity and
self-determination, the country might never have been founded under the
title of the Union of Burma. The Panglong agreement was aimed at setting
up a federal union on the foundation of equality and autonomy for every
According to some critics, the NLD headed by Aung San Suu Kyi
supports the Panglong Agreement and self-determination for every ethnic
nationality while the military-based President Thein Sein government
strongly opposed it.
Myanmar's opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi said on 13 September in
Budapest that her country "cannot be a democratic nation as long as the
(present) constitution is in effect", according to AFP News -- Sat, Sep
Speaking in Hungary during a tour of central Europe, Suu Kyi said a
report ordered by the legislature and due by the end of the year on
possible changes to the constitution would "show how genuine the present
government is about democratization".
"If the government does not support moves to amend the constitution
then we can conclude that the government is not interested in genuine
democracy," Aung San Suu Kyi, who has said she will run for president at
elections in 2015, told reporters.
In the same way, various ethnic leaders emphasized that they don't
have confidence in the new 2008 constitution which abandoned the Paglong
Under the military-centered constitution, most ethnic leaders
believe, the nation will not have a chance to create a genuine
democratic federal union by any means.
Hence, the ongoing peacemaking process seems to be misled towards a
sham democratic state. Some analysts believe that the military-backed
President Thein Sein government has also been following the path of its
predecessors. The real plan of seeking temporary ceasefire by the regime
looks as if to persuade more recognition of international community,
rather than indisputable peace.
Hence, even though some ceasefire deals are made between the rebel
groups and the government there has been little legally binding
progress. Many ethnic leaders asserted that they don't have trust the
new 2008 constitution as there is no guarantee for a justifiable federal
union in the future.
Additionally, most ethnic leaders frequently said the current
constitution will not grant the democratic freedom and the autonomy for
the ethnic people since the government armed forces take 25 percent of
all seats in the existing parliament.
So, without pondering the constitutional amendment promptly, it may
be too early to say that Myanmar is going on a proper democratization