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Mon Political Resistance, the Peace Agreement, and National Reconciliation in the modern Federal Union of Myanmar / Burma — Part-II

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National reconciliation & constitutional rights on self-determination

A constitutional right is the sole foundation of peace-building in Burma. The failure to safeguard constitutional rights of ethnic minorities has dragged out armed conflicts in the country for more than seventy years. Mon leaders along with other ethnic minority leaders drafted a new proposal for the ‘Federal Union of Burma’ in late 2004 as part of the Ethnic Nationalities Council initiative for liberated areas on the Thailand-Burma border. The document is widely read among Burma’s ethnic minorities and some Burmese. In February 2019, a joint parliamentary constitutional amendment committee (called A Joint Committee to Implement Steps to Amend Constitution) began reviewing each article in the Union of Myanmar Constitution (amended in 2008) line-by-line to make democratic rights for all citizens of the country a reality. With this progress being made, Mon politicians cannot ignore the process, but should engage with a legal and professional framework.

Mon leaders have faced obstacles in legitimizing their authority and constitutional rights in the new political transition. It is clear that a few Mon politicians are dissatisfied with the current model of the constitution, amended in 2008, but Mon politicians must still participate in the upcoming 2020 general election. They cannot turn a blind eye to the advantages of having an elected representative in government.

Author; Nai Banyar Hongsar

Self-determination can only be approached through more general sector reform as part of the peace agreement and in line with the national reconciliation project. Such reforms should include public service appointments to Mon people, using Mon language as well as other ethnic minority languages as second official languages in the public administration, laws to address gaps in many areas of cultural autonomy, civil–political autonomy, and greater social and economic diversity in various sectors of the country.

Since 1995, the New Mon State Party has faced the political reality of electoral politics. The political environment has changed in favour of elections over armed conflicts. Leaders of the party have prioritized engaging with urban Mon politicians, but remain involved in an armed movement until a truly federal constitution is adopted. The case of constitutional rights remains on the agenda in the next phase of the Peace Process.

The Deed Of Commitment statement signed by ethnic leaders including the Mon leaders in 2015- 2018 during the peace process asserted that “establishing a new political culture of ending long-existing armed conflicts and solving grievances through dialogue instead of resorting to force of arms; and striving together to promptly hold an all-inclusive political dialogue process” is one of their core commitments in pursuit of political advancement, legitimacy, and national reconciliation.

The fact is that the Mon party is unlikely to win a majority of the seats locally or nation-wide in 2020. Under the current first-past-the-post electoral laws, the Mon State Government is appointed by the Union Parliament, which is under the control of the elected majority party. Up to 75% of Mon State Government public offices sector-wide are appointed to native Burmese-speakers in Mon Regions. Thus, the call for Mon self-determination and self-autonomy under the current model of government can only be addressed through local reforms regarding issues such as the language used in schools, health clinics, and local infrastructure. Mon leaders in local government have to review their priorities when it comes to issues related to the Mon populations, such as using native names on ID cards and using Mon language as the second official language in Mon State public services. A core Mon Government will not be formed in the 2020 General Election unless a miracle occurs in the next phase of the political movement.

Mon leaders have been pursuing non-violent means over the last half century in terms of searching for national unity, peace, and reconciliation in Myanmar. In fact, prominent Mon leaders are fully informed about the history of the past, the current socio-economic situation of the present, and the future prospects of the nation in this critical political juncture. A call for an action plan for self-determination shall be reviewed by the Government of the Union of Myanmar in the next phase of peace agreements.

A proposal for peace and reconciliation programs must be converted into an action plan based on the principal agreement signed between Mon representatives and the Union of Myanmar. It is clear that making peace is a political gain for both sides, but a proper action plan, in terms of local decision-making processes, must be addressed to produce real outcomes and solutions. Outcome-based action plans must be specific, measurable, and achievable in the next three to five years, and must address equity, fairness, and benefits for the larger population in local areas. Unfair laws need to be reviewed and new, fairer laws passed or proposed to debate in the assembly.

After five years of the second cease-fire agreement, signed in 2012 (see below), Mon leaders and politicians have to question the process in terms of its outcomes and legal framework. An agreement without an action plan will not achieve its core objectives for the Mon populations. A new action plan needs to be discussed based on the barriers and gaps in the previous three phases of the cease-fire agreement.

A full text of State Level Cease-fire agreement signed on February 2012 can be found as below:

  1. To start political dialogue within 45 days of ceasefire.
  2. Allowing observers to participate in meetings.
  3. To start political dialogue between representatives of armed national races organizations and representatives of the government after ceasefire of all armed national races organizations. In case ceasefire is not secured with all the organizations by December 2012, to start the political dialogue between representatives of the ceasefire organizations and representatives of the government.
  4. To continue talks on national reconciliation, based on political compromises with participation of representatives of domestic national political parties and democratic forces.
  5. To initiate procedures for prompt implementation of agreement reached in the above-mentioned dialogue.
  6. To not extend military strength in Mon state and related areas in period of ceasefire.
  7. To work for stability and development of education, health and social sectors of the region in coordination with respective national races armed organizations and the government as the ceasefire comes into effect.
  8. To have the right to communicate with the public and help each other.
  9. To have the right to communicate with domestic political parties.
  10. To have the right to communicate with news agencies and media.
  11. To inform the public of outcomes of political dialogue as required.
  12. To conduct negotiation in advance in communicating with the foreign diplomats.
  13. To release all political prisoners remaining in the prisons and to free comrades of New Mon State Party in prisons with sympathy as well.
  14. To avoid forced labour by both sides, apart from volunteers. To solve problems of land confiscation by the Myanmar military.

Mon leaders and other ethnic minority leaders need to review the Union Peace Accord, signed on May 29, 2017, in terms of sharing power, resources, and responsibility in respective ethnic states and regions. Mon leaders must clearly articulate a clear policy before the 2020 election to claim a legitimate right to self-autonomy.

However, the Government of the Union of Myanmar is not moving forward to pass reformed legislation for the Self-Government Act or State Government Act unless ethnic armed organizations, including the Mon armed wing, agree to disarm in the next round of the peace process. One option that the New Mon State Party could pursue is reviewing the entire NCA document to create an outcomes-based action plan as part of a peace agreement.

Looking at the government’s roadmap for national reconciliation and union peace, Mon leaders have much work to do before the end of 2020.

The government’s roadmap for national reconciliation and union peace, released in September 2016 in an official newspaper, in its original text can be found below;

  • 1.To review the political dialogue framework,
  • 2.To amend the political dialogue framework,
  • 3.To convene the Union Peace Conference—the 21st Century Panglong in accordance with the amended and approved political dialogue framework,
  • 4.To sign union agreement—the 21st Century Panglong Conference Agreement based on the results of the 21st Century Panglong Conference,
  • 5.To amend the constitution in accordance with the union agreement and approve the amended constitution, 6.To hold the multi-party democracy general elections in accordance with the amended and approved constitution,
  • 7.To build a democratic federal union in accordance with the results of the multi-party democracy general elections.

Peace and reconciliation programs must be integrated into local and national administrations. Governments must address education, healthcare, local resource allocation and local infrastructure. Furthermore, local governments should implement local socio-cultural decision making processes if the government of Myanmar and local ethnic minority leaders predict they will have successful outcomes. A decision making process should integrate the government and non–state actors (armed groups) who signed the National Cease-fire Agreement between 2015 and 2018.

Mon leaders, politicians, and elected Member of Parliament (MP), as well as local Mon community-based organizations (CBOs) and civil society organizations (CSOs) must address social issues such as youth drug use, increasing unemployment, and the increasing cost of living. For many Mon families, the only source of income comes from family members working in Thailand, Malaysia and other countries.

An amendment of laws regarding legal and public safety issues will continue to be discussed after the cease-fire agreement. In the previous peace agreement, the New Mon State Party rejected the Government’s proposal to be integrated into ‘A Border Guard Forces.’ However, a Mon Police Force will be reviewed and a Mon Police Academy or Agency under the control of State Government will be designated with equal representation. The case of money laundering, attacks and destruction of property in La Mine Town, near Ye, Mon State in April this year is a reminder that legal systems and law enforcement is more complex than a signed peace agreement. Rule of law does not just apply to one race or group, but all people on earth.

Conclusion

A new soon-to-be registered Mon Unity Party (MUP), preliminary approved on 11 July 2019 by the Union Election Commission and its remaining community based organizations will be campaigning to win seats in the up-coming 2020 General Election in Myanmar. It is a critical juncture at which Mon leaders will need to establish political legitimacy and rights for self-determination under a new framework of the Democratic Federal Union of Myanmar. The registered Mon political party and its politicians face new political rivals.


There are many Mon–Burmese politicians who are not part of the core Mon political establishment, but are closely affiliated with either the NLD, Union Solidarity Development Party, or newly formed Phitu Party (People’s Party), under the leadership of Ko Ko Gyi and Min Ze Ya. A test of political effectiveness will continue beyond the 2020 general election. Mon and other ethnic minority leaders commonly agree to the formation of a genuine Federal Union of Burma. The biggest battle has already begun, as ethnic minority leaders have called for an amendment of both federal and state constitutions in the next phase of the Union Peace Agreement. Ethnic minority leaders must articulate a clear policy framework. The plan must be easily accessible to the public, and therefore, needs to be published in each native ethnic language, including Mon language. Public forums, public education and public awareness will be one of the key action steps in the next phase of peace process.

The only battle to be won in the next phase of the peace process is a proposal by Mon leaders for an outcomes-based action plan and framework for a more equal and fair decision making process both locally and at the state level. It is the nature of humans and politics that people only support the party that cares about them. After twenty-four years of a cease-fire agreement signed between New Mon State Party and the Government of the Union of Myanmar (1995 – 2019), the Mon political establishment can claim its legitimacy under current legislative process after consolidating its political manifesto in both local and national assemblies. The rest is history.

Mon leaders’ political establishment will prove to the region and the world that their right to rule is legitimate. Mon leaders and politicians only have one goal. It is to win the next election to be held in late 2020 but to rule the Mon State.

  • Reference:
  • Nai Pan Tha (2014), History Mon Political Movement and Struggle (Burmese)
  • Nai Pan Tha (2015), The Story of Nai Shwe Kyin (Burmese)
  • Nai Hong Sa (2014), Mon National Liberation Movement and History of Revolutionary (Burmese)
  • Myanmar Peace Monitor (Online)

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