Note from Dr. Than Htut Aung, CEO of Eleven Media Group

Writer: 
Than Htut Aung
Commander-in-Chief of Defence Services Senior General Min Aung Hlaing greets outstanding students, Red Cross members and scouts in Nay Pyi Taw. (Photo-Myawady)

Two years ago, the question is asked to then President U Thein Sein and Commander-in-Chief Min Aung Hlaing whether they will keep holding on power. Back then, it was not easy to ask such a strong question. It can still be seen how strong and straightforward the question was. NLD and Daw Aung San Suu Kyi supporters need to understand we are doing our work. NLD government and its supporters need to expect criticisms and suggestions. No matter how they tried to cheat in the 2015 elections, U Thein Sein and Senior General Min Aung Hlaing had not become the wrongdoers in the history. It will be historically recorded that they peacefully transferred administrative power to the civilian government. The article—I will tell the real truth (16)—was written in 2013 for constitutional amendment and the future of Myanmar. My views are still firmly set in what I believed should be done.



(The above is a post from Eleven Media Group’s CEO Dr. Than Htut Aung’s Facebook page posted on May 7, 2016. The following is an article published in The Daily Eleven Newspaper on May 7, 2014.)

The one I want most to talk with and the words I like most to say

I have not been writing for a long time because I do not have the desire to write these days. Some have now come to ask me about my views on constitutional amendments. I have written about it in my article titled "I will tell the real truth… (16)" published in October 2013. There is no reason for change. I will mention it again.

It is known that the ruling military forces, especially the government and the army, have a tough stance over amending the constitution. For national reconciliation, confrontation does not work. The year 2015 is a critical year for the people. Will the people continue to survive with no hope in the Southeast Asia's poorest country which lagged behind all the others? Or shall we grab the opportunities and use wisdom, prudence and courage to create changes for the country? Or shall we enjoy a long slave life with this low spirit?

Beyond 2015, will the president and the incumbent commander-in-chief remain in the hot seat and become the culprits of history? Or will they have big hearts and make changes in a peaceful manner? We have to wait and see all of these from now.

The one I want most to talk with is the president and the words I like most to say is "Will you give up the opportunity to rebuild Myanmar into a country that can stand with its own dignity in the world community within 60 years?"

It is easy to repeat mistakes but it is difficult to correct them.



I will tell the real truth (16)



(1)



More than a week ago, I wrote that the current Myanmar's economic, political and social agenda were showing signs vis-à-vis national reconciliation of possible backtracking.   

The national reconciliation means bringing together the people, including the national ethnic groups and the military establishment, which seized power in 1962. To achieve this, the military should take up its primary responsibility in defense of the country, and to refrain from governing and politics, and to give the power back to the people, who are real owners of the country. That is the goal of the national reconciliation.



(2)



The 2008 Constitution will need amendments to guide everyone on the path of national reconciliation. The upcoming 2015 Elections should be fair and square. Notably, the time when the government starts to compromise and increase dialogue on the current reform process should coincide with the beginning to the amendments of the 2008 Constitution.

There are many undemocratic clauses, as well as those which are impractical and unbalanced in the 2008 Constitution. Everybody including the President who took the key role in drafting the Constitution knew this. I think that there was only “one key person” who decided on it though thousands of people took part in the drafting.  So everybody knew that it would be easier to write a new one rather than to make amendments. But, making a new Constitution is a virtual impossibility. That it would only lead to confrontation. Are we ready for that?

Actually, the National Reconciliation Framework should exist to accommodate the amendments or the drafting of a new Constitution. Regardless, we must continue to have national reconciliation as an ongoing objective. Time is only needed to negotiate, and all sides need to agree to the basic principles for the sake of well-being and development of the country.



(3)



As to amendments of the Constitution, it is not easy to amend all aspects to prepare for 2015. At stake, is not just military but also the ethnic military groups. The Constitution needs to be amended before 2015 and before 2020 step-by-step. We need to prepare the election in three parts:



(1) To arrange and prepare for the establishment of the “democratic federal union”



(2) To reorganize the balance of power to sustain national reconciliation



(3) To prepare free and fair election in 2015



The Constitution is difficult to amend, especially Chapter 12 Section 436 (A) in addition to Section 436 (B). I think everyone who is involved in amending the Constitution needs to understand the National Reconciliation Framework and know what to amend before and after 2015. What I mean is that if the Constitution is amended, an agreement between the “Government, Parliament and Military” in addition to Opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi and her party, and ethnic leaders will be needed. This is paramount because according to Section 436 (A), the Constitution can only be amended with the poll of more than half of the voters.

Thus the amendment of Section 436 (A) and (B) are important in first phase. As to amend in first phase, the government, the ruling party, the military, and Aung San Suu Kyi and ethnic groups need to cooperate to have a general agreement. Therefore the 2008 Constitution can’t be amended just once. To have a general agreement,  there will have to have at least two agreements among these stakeholders to amend the Constitution before 2015 and 2020.



(4)



(1) Regarding the creation of the federal union, it would take time to sort out the issues of structuring the Union’s military organization between the armed ethnic groups and the government military. To form the Union Army is something easier said than done.

Therefore, the first thing to do is to amend a number of articles in the second chapter of the Constitution. A key framework for negotiation is to allow the respective regions to elect their own regional government (i.e. regional governments should not be directly appointed by the President); to give the ethnic minorities more seats in the Central Government and the Union Parliament; and to enlarge the ratio of ethnic representatives in the regional parliaments among non-ethnic regions (such as Yangon, Mandalay and Nay Pyi Taw regions).

However, the Eight States policy (an ideological framework to have proportional representation among the eight major races of Myanmar) will be tantamount to disregarding democracy rights of the Bamar and its related races which represent 70 percent of the country’s total population. If it is insisting on that track negotiation, it will just delay solving the actual problem. Just because it cannot be achieved, one cannot say it is racial nationalism of Bamar people. When dealing with a problem, one needs to be practical.



(2) Regarding the power sharing and amendment of the Constitution, the agenda need to be discussed largely only with the incumbent military leaders. It is up to the political leaders to strive for the military to become a professional organization which stays away from politics and administration of the country. The time has come for Aung San Suu Kyi and ethnic leaders to meet with the Commander-in-Chief and the other military leaders.



(3) For the 2015 election to be fair, both the people and international community have asked for amendment of Article 59 (F) of the Constitution. It is not a sound argument that the law cannot be amended just for “a person”, because the article was originally written with the aim of preventing Aung San Suu Kyi from being elected as President. The article should be amended when there are demand to the circumstance. This is because both 1947 and 1974 Constitutions did not have such Article, denying a person to become President if his or her children hold citizenship of a foreign country. The article was included only in the 2008 Constitution. Whether or not to amend the article is not something to be argued in terms of the legal grounds, but something to be argued in terms of the desire whether or not to strive for national reconciliation.



(5)



Actually, 50 per cent of Myanmar's political future largely depends on the generosity of the military forces and whether or not they have goodwill towards the country. Some critics say that the dictators manipulated the military and caused dictatorship. I don't see it like that. The military itself created dictatorship.  A scrutiny is needed to find out why the Commanders-in-Chief from General Nay Win, General San Yu, General Kyaw Htin, General Thura Tin Oo, Senior General Saw Maung to Senior General Than Shwe, apart from Major General Smith Dun (who was sacked due to the Kayin rebellion issue), became dictators (or) protectors of dictators. All the Commanders-in-Chiefs were not born rich and powerful but humble countryside origin. They never dreamed that they would become dictators. Dictatorship was brought about after they became leaders of the unrivalled and most powerful organization that has historical significance and the influence of the civil war.

Actually, the military is an organisation that has to follow structural orders. Everyone has to change when the Commander-in-Chief tells them to change. It depends on the Commander-in-Chief if the military is to stay clear from becoming dictatorial, and to transform to a truely professional organisation. Nevertheless, it is essential for the poorest country in Southeast Asia to build on the national reconciliation in order for it to move forward. We need to negotiate the practicality and without biasness of the past, which should be taken as a lesson. We must amend the 2008 Constitution within the National Reconciliation Framework and continue the forward journey.



(1)



The majority of the people of Myanmar, including myself, last year have looked upon the new government and the President with constructive optimism.  They provided a ray of hope on much needed economic and social reforms as well as politics. Any lingering conflicts appeared to be subsiding eventhough another emerged in the Rakhine State.

But now there is much concern. Mistrust, suspicion, and cynism have surfaced. The future looks grim. Changes for the country are becoming a distant dream, or any promises are just illusion of self-deception.  Many people have shied away from thinking of reform. In 2010, there might have been a certain political change but it wasn’t so in 1990. So it appeared not to be in 2015.

Back in 1990, a creation of civilian government was not possible as long as U Ne Win kept his grip on power, so the people thought.  Can’t the country change now he had gone? Is dictatorship an infectious disease? If its source can’t be found, there is no medicine nor effective cure!



 (2)



There might have been opportunities which attracted both political and economic potentials in the past two years but the majority of the Myanmar people are still trapped in poverty. The farmers are finding life particularly hard due to reduced harvest period because of bad weather. Unemployment in the countryside has been rising and many of them moved into the cities to find work. But they can’t find places to live in the cities. Some are looking to go abroad but work situation in either Malaysia or Thailand – paradises for rural people - is tough. Food prices are rising out of reach and there is no places to escape to!

House rental prices in  Yangon and Mandalay have more or less doubled or tripled in the past two years. The land issue – including land plot allocation by the Investment Commission and privileges won by crony companies – has tipped to crisis point. It is not just foreign investors who are put off but ordinary Myanmar too. The middle class has suffered a setback. The rich become richer and the poor become poorer.

Nice speeches from the President are no longer ringing positive bell to the ears of the poorer people as they witness more hardship. They only see unequal economic and social activities leading to increased unfairness.

Besides the lack of proper economic management, no efforts were made to solve bribery and corruption among the government’s top officials.

Internationally the country is highlighted by the ongoing riots that emerged one after another. Buddhist people who usually live with peace of mind are stirred by the allegation of sectarian violence. Nationalism has been described as part of the wave of anti-Muslim as instigated by the dictatorship group. It has never been the practice of Myanmar people to set fire to homes of people of other religion.

Above is more than just self cynicism. They are all side-effects in resistance to democracy. The source of infection to the disease is “national reconciliation” that can easily take a U-turn.



(3)



Most of the people think reconciliation has to do with Daw Aung San Suu Kyi. This is partially right. In reality, the national reconciliation tumbled particularly during 1958 to 1962 -  between ethnic minorities and Tatmadaw [all armed forces -army, navy and air force].

Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and her National League for Democracy appeared in “Four Eights Uprising” and on behalf of the people.  It took the lead in the 1990 general election. It was again won people’s approvals in the 2012 by-elections. With respect to the ethnic groups, they and the armed forces are locked in disagreement over proportional representation.

So when will national reconciliation come about? The answer is it will be secured the day when Tatmadaw will assume its primary duty of defence; on the day when Tatmadaw stay away from political and administrative affairs; on the day Tatmadaw truely hand over the state’s power to the people, who are owners of the country.



(4)



After the coup in 1962, the military did not draw up the new Constitution until 1974 for the so-called purpose of transferring power to the people after the one-party system rule. General Ne Win, the leader of the military, took off his military uniform and became President. The country’s administrative came to be dominated by the military personnel. It came to an end with the 1988 Uprising. Then, General Saw Maung and the military leaders, who staged a coup with the consent of U Ne Win, promised to hold a free and fair election and to give power to the winning party. Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and her National League for Democracy won the election, but the military backtracked, and it openly told a lie the election was intended only for drawing up the Constitution. In fact, only a few number of elected representatives were involved in drawing up the Constitution which was only approved in 2008.

Actually, both 2008 Constitution and 2010 election were just preparatory steps for the military to transform the shape of the dictatorship. It was not meant to transfer power to the people. They were just trying to lay some foundations of democracy by shifting their firmly-gripped power to the hands of Parliament, the government and the military.

The opposition forces and the ethnics were given a chance to participate in limited capacities legislatively and administratively.

Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s NLD competed in the 2012 by-elections without claiming the winning result of 1990 election. The public wants to see NLD’s participation in Parliamentary not for just for  Aung San Suu Kyi to win a seat as an MP or a leader. But it was also for the amendment to the laws including 2008 Constitution through her engagement on former military leaders and new leaders in the Parliament.  Moreover, the public expects Aung San Suu Kyi and her NLD to be the opposition party that can work with or criticize the government’s policies.  For national reconciliation, the Tatmadaw remains an integral part of the solution, and Aung San Suu Kyi and the NLD will have directly deal with the military leaders.



(5)



If the Tatmadaw is sincere in the transformation to the democracy, and really care about the country - their three main forces — the government led by the President, Parliament led by Union Assembly Speaker Thura Shwe Mann, and Tatmadaw force led by Senior General Min Aung Hlaing—must  pave way to create basic institutions necessary to creating a truly  democracy system.

The 2008 Constitution Law must be discussed for further amendment in the implementation of a democratic system. They [three forces] must agree to have a free and fair election in 2015. The people have become pessimistic with the ongoing difficulties, obstacles and lack of will. There are negativities as seen in all politic, economic and social spheres. The future is becoming an infinite endlessness.

To win trust from the people, the negative aspects must be tackled and the national reconciliation put back on the right track.