A Good Beginning to the New Year
By KYAW ZWA MOE Friday, January 13, 2012

(Page 2 of 2)

But while solving this problem may take some time, if it is being addressed seriously then we should see concrete steps in the direction of a lasting political solution throughout the year.

 One such step occurred on Thursday, when the Karen National Union signed a ceasefire agreement with the government. Another occurred in December, when the government also signed a ceasefire agreement with Shan State Army (South). Next on the agenda should be a ceasefire with the Kachin Independence Army, which the Burmese military is still fighting.

Once a nationwide ceasefire has been achieved, a full-fledged political agreement should be systematically pursued with the ethnic groups with no armed clashes occurring during the process. Achieving such a lasting settlement is crucial if Burma is serious about establishing a strong democracy, because without buy-in by the country’s ethnic minorities, any democracy will be fragile.

The release today of Hkun Htun Oo, the leader of the Shan Nationalities League for Democracy, was an encouraging sign that Thein Sein’s government is interested in pursuing peace and reconciliation with the ethnic groups. But there are still members of the ethnic armed groups in prison, and those prisoners might be released only after their respective ethnic groups reach a formal peace agreement with the government.

In addition to keeping a close watch on whether the by-election is free and fair and the government takes steps towards solving the ethnic conflicts, we must continue to look at other democratic benchmarks, such as whether the government further relaxes press freedom and takes strong steps towards establishing the rule of law.

The first step towards establishing the rule of law will be allowing Suu Kyi and other pro-democracy candidates to contest in a free and fair election. Once they are in Parliament, they can push from within to enact important laws and change certain undemocratic principles embedded in the Constitution.

With the release of many political prisoners, Burma is off to a good start in 2012. Hopefully this fast start will lead to more concrete steps towards a democratic Burma, including the conduct of a free, fair and credible by-election, the development of a full-grown peace process with ethnic groups and the establishment of the rule of law throughout the country.

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