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The Ethnic Alliances: it’s rhetoric and substance in Myanmar’s modern political transition

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By Banya Hongsar,

Part: 2

Historical ethnic political alliance:

The leaders of ethnic armed insurgencies expressed in a formal statement that ‘in the deliberation, we determined that since the time of independence in 1948, successive regimes in power have violated the right to “equality of all citizens irrespective of race,” as provided for in Panglong Agreement. Armed subjugation by successive regimes, practising racial chauvinism over the last 49 years, has been a disastrous experience of suffering for ethnic

The Ethnic Alliances: it's rhetoric and substance in Myanmar's modern political transition
The Ethnic Alliances: it’s rhetoric and substance in Myanmar’s modern political transition
minorities, unprecedented in history. Brutal suppression of ethnic nationalities by armed force is continuing’. The official statement was released by the fifteen ethnic armed leaders in 1997 after the Conference was held in liberated areas. However, the event shocked the military government during its planning for a National Convention. We, the Ethnic Nationalities Seminar, unanimously agree to establish a genuine federal union composed of national states having full rights of national equality and self-determination. A line resulted from the ethnic leaders at the Conference.

Non-armed ethnic leaders based in Yangon and other major cities built the alliance as a new ‘stick’ but the alliance only used its legitimacy and credentials through ‘building trust, unity, peace and national reconciliation’. It was a pre-conception of principles in advocating the core objectives. The formal documents released by these leaders always use consolatory wording in the Burmese language. The alliance, led by the UNA is closely engaged with the NLD either in a personal and professional capacity as well as through established contacts with foreign missions in the country. However, as Ye Mon from The Irrawaddy reports on the waning faith in the NLD, ethnic parties unite. Ethnic parties are disenchanted with the National League for Democracy and must forge their own agenda going forward with the peace process, according to the leader of one of the largest ethnic alliances.

U Khun Tun Oo, head of the United Nationalities Alliance (UNA) and chair of the Shan National League for Democracy, said ethnic people cannot count on the ruling party. “Ethnic people have only the UNA or the NBF [National Brotherhood Federation] or the current ethnic representatives of parliament to rely on for ethnic affairs. Ethnic people can no longer rely on the NLD,” he said during an opening speech at a UNA meeting on May 7. The issue of alliance could be problematic when the ‘race’ agenda is ahead of politics but the sentiment is high on this ground.

Armed ethnic military alliance:

After five years of implementing a peace process, the ethnic armed leaders have called again on the unity of alliance, as reported by The Irrawaddy, on Ethnic Leaders Draft Policy to Reflect a ‘Common Vision’ in Future Peace Talks in CHIANG MAI, THAILAND. Ethnic representatives from the United Nationalities Federal Council (UNFC) and various domestic and international advisors gathered to discuss security issues and Burma’s peace process in northern Thailand’s Chiang Mai this week. Titled “Security, Defense and Current Political Situation Workshop,” the three-day event was organized by the Ethnic Nationalities Affairs Centre (ENAC), an organization focused on providing training and drafting policy that will support Burma’s peace process. The rhetoric was sound but the substance shall be visible in real action unto the real results.

The question remained unanswered when seven armed ethnic leaders signed the National Cease-fire Agreement (NCA) on 15th October in 2015 leaving the remaining five major armed ethnic leaders refusing to sign despite being members of the alliance in one way or another previously. The ethnic leaders shall be recalling the vision of first the Karen insurgency later, Saw Ba U Gyi whom was killed by the Government’s troops on 12th August 1950 in Karen State during his tour to restore the unity of the Mon and Karen armed forces. After fifty years of fostering the ethnic alliance by the armed and non-armed ethnic leaders, the search for a consolidated answer shall be found prior to the new 21st Century Panglong Conference which is due to be held in the middle of this year. On a final note, the Bamar’s leaders (military and civilian) will be seeking a new alliance when they are reaching a point that they too are in need of an alliance in terms of Bamar’s ethnic interest in modern time. The sincerity of the ethnic leaders in the modern political climate shall be examined but politics is a battle of ideas from who dares to win; the vote, a credibility and above all, the national leadership to the power of glory.

Many stakeholders are keen to see the emergence of a common framework for political dialogue before the election season sweeps in—and the clock is ticking. Recent efforts to amend the Constitution in Parliament have proven fruitless. The military continues to hold onto, and wield, its veto power, making it almost impossible to advance a more democratic charter and nation. Several political leaders and MPs have expressed their disappointment over the military’s ongoing legislative power, warned by Dr Sai Oo who works with the Pyidaungsu Institute.

Perhaps the government’s effort to enter into a political dialogue with the ethnic alliance could frustrate Suu Kyi’s attempt to make herself relevant in the peace process. It is also increasingly apparent that ethnic groups in Burma no longer look up to Aung San Suu Kyi for moral solidarity and political support (at least for now). That should be a powerful lesson for Burman politicians in power, asserted by Min Zin (2013) – brokering emerged within the ethnic armed leaders in dealing with Burma’s military circle.

The politics of ethnic armed and non-armed alliances is far more complex than a democratic campaign as expected by the 8888’s Generations and other scholars within Myanmar but it is an issue that shall be examined on its rhetoric and substance toward a 21st Century Panglong Conference to be held in July. The simple question is whether the Bamar’s ethnic will be forming its own alliance in the foreseeable future in case a political alliance is critical to win the next General in late 2020. The rest is history.


Hongsa, Nai (2014) Mon Armed Liberation Struggle, (Burmese)

Pantha, Nai (2013), Mon Political Movement and History, (Burmese)

The Irrawaddy Online News

Mon News Agency

BurmaNet Online

The Myanmar Times (English)

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