The Mon people and their own small de-facto State, located in the south of Myanmar, won only four seats in Myanmar’s general elections last November despite having more than 50 ethnic Mon candidates on the ballot. Like in many places in the country, the National League for Democracy (NLD) won by a landslide.
It is time to reveal the truth in modern Mon nationalist politics. The notions of self-determination, freedom, liberation and democratic rights have been widely used in modern Mon political literatures, but the context of the current social, political and insurgency of the Mon political trends reveals a contrary story.
The last Mon capital and Mon Royal dynasty were destroyed in 1757 by the Bamar, or majority ethnic Burman group. The last Mon capital of Pegu (Hong-sa-wa-toi in Mon text) was established in A.D 757, much earlier than western countries like Canada, USA and Australia, but the glory of the Mon dynasty and its ruling class was short lived. Despite existing only in history books since then, the search for Mon nationhood has not diminished in the national consciousness of Mon people in lower Burma.
The campaign for self-determination for Monland ignited in the 1920s during the anti-British movement, along with Bamar’s social and political elites. It is the Mon people’s nature to have a caring and sharing spirit, and they have always been reluctant to engage through violent armed struggle. The Mon leaders used armed insurgency as their last resort, as the late president of the New Mon State Party explained to the BBC and CNN media in the 1990s. The New Mon State Party formed in 1958 and its armed wing, the Mon National Liberation Army, recruited a formal military unit in 1978. Today, leaders of the New Mon State Party play a vital role in the country’s current peace process.
The role of registered Mon democratic parties (the Mon National Party and All Mon Regions Democracy Party) merely fill the gap of modern electoral politics in the country from 2010, but the expectation of winning seats in 2015 fell far too short. This is not for a surprise in view of the popularity of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and her party, the NLD. Now, a Mon State government will be formed with the expectation of the voters, but will not fulfil Mon people’s hope for self-determination, freedom and liberation. The New Mon State Party and its armed wing, the Mon National Liberation Army, announced at the party’s congress in January their commitment to a nationwide peace process. The party chair, Nai Htaw Mon, also expressed his faith in the NLD’s government for a much bigger space in negotiation for each case of political agenda.
This is not the end of the story in modern politics. There are plenty of spaces for modern Mon politicians if they are capable in political persuasion. As the popular words remind us: Politics is the art of persuasion. However, a new political agenda, a strategy for winning votes, skilful debate towards amending or passing legislation are far more difficult to achieve than victory in armed insurgency battles. Leaders of registered and armed Mon parties have one common objective in modern politics: Establishing a new Mon State within Myanmar under the principle of federalism and an amended constitution. The Mon leaders have been demanding an “equal shouldering in public institution” or “equal rights” within the laws for half a century. Mon leaders have said to the world that armed insurgency is only part of its strategy in winning political objectives.
After half a century engaging with armed insurgency, armed conflict and political ideologies, the Mon leaders have been searching for a “mature trust” and a good political partnership with the Bamar in this modern political transition. The story has been loud and clear after Nai Hong Sa, Vice-Chair of the United Nationalities Federal Council, arrived in Yangon in 2013 to meet top government officials.
This is a new era of politics in Myanmar. However, calls for Mon self-determination, freedom, and liberation will only be achieved when the population is behind the movement. In the wake of the 69th Mon National Day, when colourful Mon white and red traditional clothing was worn across the states and regions, the new strategy for peace and leadership of the Mon national movement will face its real test: Winning the “hearts and minds” of people in Mon regions regardless of race, colour and religion. The glory of the last Mon Capital can be honoured only when the circle of Mon political leaders unites toward one objective in the 2020 election: To elect Mon candidates, appoint a Mon Chief Minister, and rule Mon State.