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Seeking Burma’s true national interest

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By Banya Hongsar – Working for the national interest must be a top priority in the nation of Burma. The national interest has never been defined clearly within Burma’s political context in the last half century. A new language of politics in Burmese terms was born this week after President Thein Sein and Daw Aung San Suu Kyi held a meeting on 19 August.

What is our national interest? Peace for all, stability for the country, security for citizens, and equality for all people within the country. True democracy with a sense of hope, aspiration to claim dignity and human rights as our own rights, and accepting that no one is above the law are in fact also greater aspects of the national interest in politics.
Burma’s national interest goes beyond its own wellbeing, as it is related to its relationships with neighboring countries and Western nations, and overall, as a good global citizen in the 21st century. This is a most important time to determine whether Burma’s ‘national interest’ will only remain political terms, or will be translated into action by our leaders. Actions speak louder than words in politics, but the tasks are limitless for achieving the common aspirations of our national interest.

Burma has come to its own turning point on the road to peace within in the country after too many decades of misery and suffering from internal armed conflict, displacement, poverty, and severely under-developed areas. A nation with pride in its history has come to realize that peace for all citizens is an important agenda item for the new government.

The new government released a public statement expressing its willingness to resume peace talks with armed insurgent ethnic organizations across the country. Politically, the ethnic armed groups have won the game, but lost on strategic terms because the military elites have already formed a new government in January of this year with a sense of hope to remain in power beyond the current term.

The ruling elites are seeking to be re-elected in the next election in 2015 after its power structures are in place, its economy is strengthened, and its legal status is secured in the country. The call for peace talks with armed insurgents is a tactic of the new government to contain international pressure on its human rights record, have sanctions by the US and EU governments lifted, and finally give some space to the party led by Daw Aung San Suu Kyi for win-win gains. This is the new question for all ethnic leaders: where to go from here.

The failure of the Burmese Way to Socialism from 1962–1988 proved that the previous ruling military elites had lost touch with realistic political instincts. The collapse of the one-party system further damaged the credibility of the ruling military elites. After 20 years of domination of power in the country, the elected (by a shameful election) ruling military elites and appointed military candidate seek a new way of building a “Burmese way to democracy” as the status quo in the country. The cunning politics of the president and his cabinet urgently need to contain pressure both internally and externally. Historically, peace deals with armed insurgent ethnic organizations occurred in the country for many rounds of talks from the 1950s to 1995. No rounds of talks resulted in political settlements that satisfied anti-government forces. A new peace talk process is again on the agenda of all political factions, including the president and prominent opposition leaders.

The ethnic national alliance, newly formed to work for the political aims of Burma’s ethnic people, the United Nationalities Federal Council (UNFC), sent an official letter to the president on 15 August calling for national peace dialogue as an urgent priority in the country. The letter expressed the grief of ethnic people following centuries’ long oppression by the government’s troops and policies of assimilation. The president met Daw Aung San Suu Kyi at the end of the same week that the letter was sent, a coincidence of events that encourages some people to have hope for positive change.

Concerted and timely actions on the part of the international community could help persuade the new government that its best interests lie in demonstrating progressive credentials, and distancing itself from previous military regimes. The government should be encouraged to preserve the peace in relation to ceasefire groups, said Ashley South, an expert on Burma’s ethnic politics, on 18 June 2011.

Burma’s own policy thinker and academic of modern times, Dr. Maung Zarni, asserted in his recent piece that, “Ultimately, politics is about power—power to reform politically repressive institutions and economically dysfunctional structures, as well as, and above all, the military which created them. My foregone conclusion is that there is absolutely no plan among the generals, the outgoing seniors or incoming generation of juniors, to share power with other popular stakeholders of Burma such as Aung San Suu Kyi and ethnic minority leaders.” Dr. Zarni has urged peace and stability in Burma for a decade, but political settlement is the core of the business of the current trend.

Ethnic leaders and representatives held a seven-day Federal Conference on 8 June 1961 for delegates to discuss, amend, and propose a plan for a United National Federation of Burma (a Multi Nation States). A member of the Mon delegation, Mr. Nai Tun Thein (aged 94 this year), the current President of the Mon National Democratic Front, published his political memoirs in 2001.

According to Nai Tun Thein’s account, the Union of Burma (the Federation of Burma) was to be created under the re-adopted constitution of 1947, which would strive for peace, stability, and unity for all of Burma’s races. In fact, searching for peace, unity, and political dialogue is neither new nor strange for Burma’s leaders.

Overall, it is a new era of politics. There is a vision for a new Burma where, regardless of race and religion, all of Burma’s citizens under the Federation will enjoy constitutional rights to seek public duty as members of parliament under the rule of law, justice, and prosperity for all.

President Thein Sein and Daw Aung San Suu Kyi have a moral duty to act with sincerity. The world is watching them for signs to see whether peace can come from within Burma. Burma’s national interest includes peace, stability, unity, and equaltiy for all ethnic people in order to build a stronger nation that can resist the economic and military might of China or India. Democracy is within us, but honesty must be one of our core principles.

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