Charter change, the army’s stance and bleak prospect for peace

Writer: 
Nay Htun Naing

(1)

Unelected military representatives turned down the bill to amend the Constitution on June 25 and then on July 1 they unanimously said the controversial Section 436(b) should remain unchanged. The failure to change sections 261, 262 and 264 is a particular blow to ethnic communities.

Section 261, in particular, is glued to centralisation, and these sections are seen as key to blocking the development of a federal union.

Observers have long claimed these sections of the Constitution block the development of a federal system.

(2)

Section 261, a target for amendment, can be changed by Parliament alone but it will not happen without the backing of the military MPs.

It says the chief ministers of each region and state will be chosen by the president and approved by Parliament through a centralised system.

A member of an ethnic minority, therefore, has little chance of becoming a president. Ethnic minorities have no option as only Bamar may become a president.   

Reformers want the parliaments in each region or state to select their own chief minister. Then the selection should be sent for approval by the president.

Granting such power before the establishment of a genuine federal union would be a step towards satisfying both the ethnic minorities and their armies.

However, the military has showed its opposition to such amendments. It will cling to centralisation even after it has already taken a quarter of seats in the Parliament, as well as in the regional parliaments.

(3)

President Thein Sein has made efforts for peace over the last three years and spent a large sum of money. But he will fail to achieve his objective while the charter remains unchanged. As a result, it would be beyond hope of establishing a genuine federal union.

The army has already taken a quarter of seats in the Parliament, as well as in the regional parliaments and controlled other important sectors as well.  Under this circumstance, the army doesn’t want to grant the autonomy (it is assumed that the army does it within framework).

Armed ethnic groups are in deadlock, waiting for constitutional amendments before they sign the nationwide ceasefire agreement. They all are monitoring Section 261.

If Section 261 is not changed, we can forget about reform elsewhere. The ethnic groups want practical changes, not just empty words.

(4)

Meanwhile, suspicions arise that ethnic armed groups, including the Karen National Union, want to sign the ceasefire with the ulterior motive to get off the list of unlawful associations.

There was ringing applause when the deal was agreed but in reality, nothing has materialised.

No more pressure can be put on the ethnic minorities before granting them more political autonomy. Even articles written by Presidential Office Minister Aung Min to put up a nice façade will not work anymore.

The reality is that we will not even have the freedom to choose our own regional ministers, let alone see a federal union, without reform.

This small step towards a genuine federal union being unrealized means that the hopes of the ethnic groups will be lost and while tension has escalated.

Violence will return to ethnic regions again and at least 1 million refugees will lose their futures. Grievances will increase and hopes for peace will become a distant memory as the ethnic groups will begin to fight for independence.

The result will be the shattering of our country.

(5)

Commander-In-Chief of the Defence Services Senior General Min Aung Hlaing needs to reassess the stance on constitutional amendment.

Section 261 is not an insignificant issue. It is not just a normal amendment to a standard law. It concerns the future of the country. This is a beginning of an opportunity to achieve a federal union that the ethnic groups want. If it is not changed now, it is unlikely to be reformed in the future.

The situation remains unstable. A ceasefire is yet to be achieved. There is trouble on the western and eastern borders. It would not take many factors to start a civil war.

Thein Sein needs to issue direct orders to Min Aung Hlaing, whose MPs are putting the president’s peace deal in jeopardy. The division between the Myanmar people and the ethnic races will only grow larger if it continues.

It is time for Aung San Suu Kyi, her National League for Democracy and every other elected MP to oppose the military’s stance on Section 261. Condemnation needs to be heard every time the military representatives refuse to amend these sections.

It is a great tragedy that section 261 which greatly concerns the ethnic groups sees little to no chance of being amended.

The ethnic groups will soon be left with only one option.

Unless Section 261 is amended, no genuine federal Union will emerge at all.

Particularly, it is so regrettable that the military does not want to amend Section 261, which is the future of the ethnic minorities. The beacon of peace is dim.