Decision Time
covering burma and southeast asia
Thursday, November 15, 2018


Decision Time


(Page 2 of 2)

They are particularly reluctant to give up their privileges and be integrated into the Union of Burma under the conditions spelled out in the SPDC’s 2008 Constitution.

The Kokang area may have one seat and the Wa-controlled territory about three seats, while Mongla will straddle two constituencies in Shan State and will not even have the status of a “Self-Administered Zone.”  The Wa are especially unhappy that they would effectively lose control of their area even though they have been designated a “Self-Administered Division” under the new Constitution.

Groups such as the Kachin Independence Organization, the New Mon State Party and the Shan State Army (North) were previously ethnic nationalist independence movements. They agreed to cease-fires with the SPDC in order to find a political solution. But after nearly 20 years with no political concessions, they now have to go back to armed struggle or convert their armies into border guard forces and participate in the 2010 election.

The problem is that if they participate, there is no guarantee that the SPDC will give them the minimum level of autonomy that they want. If their hopes are unfulfilled they are expected to break their cease-fire agreements and return to armed struggle.

This will be a very messy business because the SPDC is unlikely to target ethnic troops, going instead for the “soft” option—the civilian population. If this happens, it will lead to the destruction of villages and towns, large numbers of displaced people and a flow of refugees into neighboring countries.

The ethnic groups still fighting the SPDC are aware that an attack on any one of the cease-fire groups is also an attack on all of them. They are unlikely to stand by and let the SPDC annihilate any major ethnic cease-fire army that has a political agenda. Widespread fighting would erupt across the nation.

However, the SPDC may be confident that given its superior fire power and troop strength it can destroy any armed opposition from ethnic armies.

The borders of Burma—whether with Bangladesh, India, China, Laos or Thailand—are extremely porous. Various ethnic nationalities can be found on both sides of each border and any instability in Burma would affect neighboring countries.

Instability, however, would not bring about positive change and would further entrench the concept that might is right. The SPDC may in fact be trying to provoke showdowns with the ethnic forces in order to have an excuse to postpone the 2010 election.

The SPDC is in a win-win position. If it can coerce the ethnic nationalities to participate in the 2010 poll, it can show that the election is inclusive and thus legitimate. If a significant number of ethnic groups decide not to participate, the SPDC can postpone the election because of instability and continue to rule the country.

While pro-democracy advocates may have up to 15 months to decide whether to participate in the election, the ethnic nationalities do not have that luxury. The October deadline to transform their armies into border guard forces has already passed. The regime is impatiently waiting for their decision—whether to cooperate or return to armed struggle.

The KIO and others are trying to avoid a return to armed struggle by negotiating with the SPDC to retain their arms while agreeing in principle to both the border guard force and the election. SPDC Chairman Snr-Gen Than Shwe has the final decision here.

Assuming that the cease-fires hold and the 2010 election takes place as planned, what can be expected?

It is clear that the SPDC will not tolerate a challenge to its power.  If the ethnic nationalities do not want a return to armed struggle, the question is will they—political parties, armed cease-fire groups, non-cease-fire groups and civil society—be able to mobilize their people effectively enough to ensure that their voices are heard in the new limited political set-up under the SPDC’s Constitution?

The cease-fire groups will also have to campaign hard to convince their people that participating in the 2010 election is the best option. Those not convinced can be expected to form splinter groups that don’t take part in the election.

Over the past 20 years, the SPDC’s policy has been to separate the political parties and the armed groups from the populace. If the ethnic nationalities can neutralize this policy, if they can truly represent their constituencies and work to meet the needs of their people, they still stand a chance.

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