၂၀၁၅ ေရြးေကာက္ပြဲ Irrawaddy.org
Ethnic Issues

‘History May Blame Those Who Refuse to Hold Talks’

Parliamentarian Aye Maung, representing ethnic groups in recent six-party talks on political reform, discusses the outcome, constitutional change and Aung San Suu Kyi’s political calculus.


A dialogue involving six of Burma’s leading political players, considered by many to be crucial for Burma’s tenuous democratic transition, was held on April 10. The much-anticipated gathering yielded little in the way of political breakthroughs, however, with the parties agreeing to meet again next month.

Parliamentarian Aye Maung, who represented Burma’s ethnic minorities in the talks, sat down with The Irrawaddy following that meeting to discuss its outcomes, constitutional reform and the political calculus of opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

How satisfied are you with the six-party talks?

It is not that only us [ethnic minorities and opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi] that demanded six-party talks, but all of Parliament demanded it. But even then, more than four months have passed [since Parliament called for the dialogue]. To be frank, I feel sorry about the time [that has passed].

We had desperately hoped for the dialogue. History may blame those who refuse to hold talks. It is because everyone wants to get the Constitution amended, and everyone well understands that the six-party dialogue is important for constitutional reform.

Therefore, I am satisfied with the talks themselves. Once a dialogue is started, it can’t be reversed. Once it is started, all six parties are obligated to make it a success. It is already satisfactory that initial steps have been made toward trust-building as a result of the talks.

What did you discuss on behalf of ethnic minorities’ interests?

I discussed principles. I said that firstly, we want a genuine federal system within the framework of constitutional reform. The federal system, according to our definition, has four features: autonomy, self-determination, resource-sharing and tax revenue-sharing.

Regarding autonomy, we want the Constitution to provide that local persons govern their respective regions. Here, we need to amend Article 261; we want the Constitution to provide that states’ chief ministers are directly elected by their respective state parliaments.

We want to reduce the role of the army in the administrative apparatus. I asked for a reduction in the 25 percent bloc of army men in state parliaments and the granting of self-determination by creating a parliament that can pass legislation without the army’s involvement.

We want no more ministers, including the border affairs minister, who are directly appointed by the army. The civil war might even come to an end by reducing the role of the army in state parliaments. The civil war is mainly attributed to [ethnic armed groups’] desire for autonomy and self-determination.

I can accept the fact that the army takes 25 percent of seats in the Union Parliament as part of its role in the Union. But, it has nothing to do with state parliaments. If it [the military] is sincere, it should reduce its block in division and state parliaments. I want the army to be under the control of a democratic government. Even if it can’t do so overnight, it should reduce its role over time if it wants to show its respect for democracy.

What were the responses of others to the points you made?

Everyone talked about his or her wishes and positions. The Union Parliament speaker shares the same position as us. It is difficult to disclose who said what. I can tell you what I discussed, but as for the positions of others, I had better keep silent.

Since you attended the dialogue representing Burma’s ethnic minorities, have you shared the outcome of the talks with them?

Yes. I explained the positions of each individual participant and recounted the discussion as best as I could recall. I explained to representatives of ethnic parties at 6 pm the same day [as the dialogue was held, April 10]. And I also gave interviews to some news agencies.

How did ethnic representatives respond? Did they react?

Not yet. We, ethnic parties, have compiled a book on agreed points among us and my discussion points at the dialogue were within the framework of that book. I only talked about the things we have already agreed upon. The book also includes proposed amendments to the Constitution by ethnic parties. I handed over copies of the book to the commander-in-chief, the president and parliamentary speaker U Shwe Mann. We want to make the move openly.

We are going by our four-point principles, which I mentioned before.

Do you think the six-party talks will be successful? If not, what will the future of Burma’s politics look like?

We have an optimistic view. We hope for the success of the dialogue. If it does not deliver results, history will cast us—each and every one who participated in the talks—in a negative light.

The country is likely to face a general political crisis if the dialogue fails to deliver results. We may experience another uprising like the 88 pro-democracy one, or the country may become the enemy of the entire international community. And all the gains achieved over the past four years may come to nothing. All six participants are obliged to make sure a general political crisis does not happen.

Daw Aung San Suu Kyi has implied that she may boycott the election. What is ethnic groups’ response to that?

I think she said the right words at the right time. Her choice of words, saying she may avoid the election if necessary, drove [the concerned political leaders] into six-party talks. We reckon that her words led to the six-party talks. I am grateful to her.

But her words do not mean that she would do as she said. We are politicians and, of course, we have options. We will exercise those options as necessary. We will use sword or scissors or canon or bigger options as necessary. Daw Aung San Suu Kyi has used a sharp sword and that has proved to be really effective.

Indeed, they are testing each other’s strength, with smiles on their faces. They are making moves. Previously, those six were at a distance from one another and now they have become closer. So, I hope we will be able to complete a long, difficult journey.

Do you think the democratic reforms of President U Thein Sein will be considered a success as his term comes to an end?

He tries as best as he can. Rather than U Thein Sein, I would like to assess former Senior General Than Shwe. We should think about what moves U Than Shwe is making at present. U Thein Sein was handpicked by U Than Shwe. If U Than Shwe had not made that move, U Thein Sein would not have become president. Likewise, all the key figures are on U Than Shwe’s chess board.

U Than Shwe has made other moves: making Burma undergo a democratic transition without a drop of blood, making the people accept the 2008 Constitution and making the NLD [National League for Democracy], which boycotted the 2008 Constitution, enter Parliament through by-elections. The next move of U Than Shwe will be a deciding factor [in Burma’s politics].

Every politician should be aware that while they need a good beginning, they also need a good ending. U Than Shwe has taken the current path to achieve a good ending. He won’t commit the same mistake made by U Ne Win. U Than Shwe has made this move because he has considered his younger generations rather than himself. Nothing could be as politically secure as a democracy for his future generations.

If all these moves were made by U Than Shwe, it can be said that he is creating a very good democratic society for our country. At this point, we should be able to negotiate for an agreement that can fulfill our demands to some extent, as well as providing an exit for him [Than Shwe]. And this negotiation may have an impact on the six-party talks.