A year of destiny for Myanmar

This article was wirst published in Aftenposten February 15 written by former Prime Minister Kjell Magne Bondevik.

 

Fear for setbacks in the democatization of Myanmar.
Fear for setbacks in the democatization of Myanmar.

 

A lot has been going in the right direction. There is greater openness for political debate. Most political prisoners are released. Aung San Suu Kyi and her party (NLD) can again participate in political work. The government has breached out from previous isolation.

Challenges ahead.

The country faces mainly two political challenges now:

1. Preparations for the 2015 election, especially the question of constitutional amendments.

2. Negotiations with the ethnic groups regarding a peace agreement and principles for a federal state.

These issues must be resolved in 2014 as they provide an important foundation for next year’s election.

The ethnic dimension

It is impossible to understand the political situation in Myanmar without taking into account the role of ethnic minorities. Several of these have been in armed conflict with the central government for many years. Bilateral ceasefires are now concluded, and it is mostly peaceful in the majority of states. But a durable solution requires a national peace agreement with principles for power sharing between local and central authorities. Such principles for a federal state should be enshrined in the constitution before the election.

In meeting with ethnic leaders last week I got the distinct impression that negotiations are deadlocked. New initiatives must be made.

Undemocratic constitution

The current constitution of 2008 has several undemocratic features.

A paragraph reserve 25% of seats to military representatives. It was a special experience when I, a couple days ago, could see the uniformed representatives hold a section of the parliament hall. It is not very democratic. But it might be room for compromise here.

Paragraph 59 f in the constitution excludes Aung San Suu Kyi from becoming president because of her marriage with a foreigner, her late English husband, Michael Aris.

She has sought to bring about a change through cooperation with the other two main political actors, President Thein Sein and Parliamentary Speaker Shwe Mann.

The work is underway in a commission of 31 members, where the ruling military-initiated party has secured a majority. Many fear now that this work will be unsuccessful and that a strategy from Suu Kyi will be to travel around the country to mobilise a public demand for change. The international society should endorse such a demand.

Reactions?

If this is not successful, I am excited for the reactions. Will Suu Kyi and her many supporters boycott the elections like they did in 2010? Or is a compromise likely, where she receives a different influential position?

We risk strong reactions and in worst case unrest and violence. This would be a setback in the country’s democratic process that could of course influence the social and economic development.

The international society needs to pay close attention and do what it can to secure further positive development.

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