Ceasefire dream uncertain ahead of election

Nay Tun Naing

The Union Peacemaking Work Committee (UPWC) and the ethnic group's Senior Delegation met from July 22 to 24, talking about the ceasefire deal but the meeting finished inconclusive.

Both sides said generally that the meeting was successful. But it was just a diplomatic answer and there left some important points to talk on and that is why the deal is still unsigned.     

Even if the July meeting is opening one door for the nationwide ceasefire agreement (NCA), there are still many doors left closed, sealed with bigger bolts.

Lack of peace

A 60-year old civil war can be put off only through peace.

But that peace is not only for the personal gains of a certain individual or an organisation.

Myanmar Peace Centre (MPC) is projected to put the long lost amity back in place. The MPC, which is set to disband in October 2016, needs to achieve the ceasefire agreement before the scheduled election this year.

The MPC's goal is for President Thein Sein’s administration.

President Thein Sein, who took the office in March 2011, has decided to tackle two issues in his administration.

The first one is the poverty alleviation along with the all-around reforms, and the second is to put an end to the chronic civil war.

The first one has not come out as expected – the shallow reforms diminish and some even said it took a step backward.

The second task is concerned with the NCA. There have been a series of talks about the national reconciliation, the establishment of a federal union, but there is still no actual result which all the people and ethnicities can enjoy.  

The performance of a leader is a decisive factor for him to run for re-election. If the NCA is signed, it would make a good reason for President Thein Sein to try for another presidency.    

But the hope of peace has already been fading – since the sections 261, 262, and 264 of the constitution which the ethnic groups wanted to change, were refused to be amended in the parliament session last month.

The MPC tried once more to close the ceasefire deal in time so that President Thein Sein will not have to stand for the re-election empty-handed.

And the clock is ticking.

Election essentiality

All eyes are on the general election which will take place on November 8.

The parties have to submit the candidate lists between July 20 and August 8. Then the campaign period will start on September 8.  

The Union Peacemaking Central Committee (UPCC) and UPWC, the MPC, and the government expect to reach the ceasefire agreement in the first or second week of August because some of them will compete in the election, and some unconfirmed information says the military personnel representing the commander-in-chief in ceasefire talks will also stand for the election.

So the government wants to finalise the NCA negotiations by August to seal the deal before the election.

It is unlikely to sign the ceasefire deal in August. If it is signed, the framework for the political dialogues must be drawn within 60 days, and the dialogues must start within 90 days.

If the ceasefire is signed in August, the political talks commence in November. Then there comes the election; it is impossible to hold both the political dialogues and the election in the same month, and the ethnic groups do not want it, too.

Another thing is the framework for political talks. The national level framework needs to be all-inclusive.

Currently, the ethnic armed groups, the UPWC, the coalition of 56 political parties, the National League for Democracy, and the United Nationalities Alliance have offered five different frameworks.

It is necessary to discuss and complete these five frameworks within 60 days. If ceasefire agreement is reached in August, political dialogue framework must be discussed in September and October.

Yet, the election campaign period will start on September 8. The campaign lasts until November. It will be difficult to do other things except campaigning within that period.

The situation also depends on whether or not the NCA could be signed before the election. That could not surely happen in August as well as in October. Political stability in the post-election period can be seen only after April 2016.

Uncoordinated tasks

There are still some important points that have yet to be coordinated. The ethnic armed groups say they are ready to sign the NCA if the government agrees on these points and give a guarantee.

The first point is about the inclusiveness of the armed groups in the NCA signing. The government wants to sideline the Kokang, Taaung and Arakan (Rakhine) groups. The other armed groups however said they would sign the accord only if these three groups are included. This point concerns the dignity of the military, which has recently fought with allied troops of Kokang, Taaung and Arakan.

The second point is related to witnesses for the NCA signing. Both sides have to continue to discuss this.

The security issue is the third point. The military wants to carry out the DDR (disarmament, demobilization and reintegration) process first. The process itself seems to be nothing serious. But ultimately, it means disarmament and then surrender.

The ethnic armed groups on their side want the SSR (security reform sector) programme. The government only wants the DDR, not SSR. The DDR is also related to the stationing of the troops. It is not a technical or procedural problem. It is the main problem. The MPC however describes it as a procedural or technical problem.

With the ongoing fighting, doubts and previous broken agreements, the DDR process is unlikely. Even in the international community, it usually takes years to carry out such a process.

Peace will not last long unless security issues are addressed. According to the draft NCA, lower level troops must be informed about ceasefire within 24 hours after the signing of the accord. Within next 14 days, discussion must be held how and where to station troops. This is not that easy either.

Another point is that even before the election, there can be changes in both the government and military.

If senior military officers like Lt-General Myint Soe, who has constantly been engaging in peace talks, and regional chief ministers and border security affairs ministers retire and run for election, there could be difficulties in military affairs engagements. Small problems may grow into conflicts.

Fighting is continuing in Kachin, Shan and Kayin states. The reason why we still see continued fighting in those areas is that the troops have no specific place to station, that they try to trespass on areas controlled by others and that they launch offensive operations.

Uncertain situation

The government’s willingness to sign the NCA ahead of the election seems to gain political credit. Those who want to gain political credit are President Thein Sein and his government, MPC, the UN and donor countries for Myanmar’s peace process. They are pushing for the signing of a ceasefire accord.

Thein Sein and his government want political credit for re-election while MPC is seeking political credit for its continued survival.

For the UN and donor countries, they want their assistance to yield the outcome.

There are disagreements among the ethnic armed groups. The powerful Wa and Mongla groups will not sign the NCA. They said they would only participate in political dialogue. Without them, we cannot say ‘a nationwide ceasefire’.

Discord also reigns in the Kachin Independence Organisation (KIO), which is constantly demanding the establishment of a federal union. Some members will try to get as much as they could while some want to follow the roadmap earlier adopted.

What is strange is that the role of Maj-Gen Gwan Maw has become little although he has always participated in peace talks as a top KIO representative. His reduced role became noticeable when the draft NCA came out on March 31.

There are also changes in the Karen National Union (KNU). Chairman General Mutu Say Po and Secretary Pado Saw Kwe Htoo Win, are found to have taken a back seat. Actually, they established close relationships with President Thein Sein and the commander-in-chief of Defence Services.

Vice-Chairman Nawsi Po Ra Sein, described being more confident and able to lead the hardliners, has come to the forefront. He has become the leader of the senior delegation (SD), which was formed in place of the Nationwide Ceasefire Coordination Team (NCCT). The SD is more influential than the NCCT, which is led by Naing Han Tha, Gwan Maw and Saw Kwe Htoo Win.

Despite such changes, the powerful ethnic armed groups have common ground that they will sign the NCA only if the Kokang, Taaung and Arakan groups are included.

The forthcoming talks in August will focus on the matter of whether every NCCT member has the right to sign the NCA and the issue of DDR or SSR. If the government agrees on these two points, the NCA can be signed.

There are those who want to see the signing of NCA before the November election to gain political credit. However, the NCA and peace concern the entire people. If the agreement becomes null and void in a short time like the previous ones, the entire people will run into trouble again.

If the NCA is to be signed for political credit, there are two main problems to be solved. One is the root cause of the problem. Unless this is solved, the agreement will be nullified within a short time. Procedure is the second problem. If it is unsolved, the major problem will not be solved either.

At present, the NCA signing is not that important. It is only necessary to ensure regional ceasefire based on the agreements reached.

Talks based on principle will even enable the next government to further discuss for enduring ceasefire. Continued talks are possible if the principle remains unchanged despite government changes. So it is required to make strong pledges.

Practically speaking, the signing of the NCA is unlikely under current circumstances.