88 Generation, Ethnic Alliance Join to Promote Reform

By Lawi Weng 6 March 2014

RANGOON—The 88 Generation Peace and Open Society has pledged to collaborate with ethnic leaders of the United Nationalities Alliance (UNA) to advocate for constitutional amendments.

At a meeting in Rangoon on Thursday, leaders of both sides agreed to push for amendments that would promote a more democratic and federal political system in the country. The two groups have not collaborated formally in the past, although both have worked separately to advocate for democracy and ethnic minority rights.

The 88 Generation Peace and Open Society also recently pledged to team up with the National League for Democracy (NLD) party, led by Aung San Suu Kyi, to promote constitutional reform.

When asked about the collaboration with the UNA, Mya Aye, a spokesman for the 88 Generation, said it was crucial to focus on ethnic issues to put a stop to decades of conflict between government troops and ethnic armed groups.

“We agreed on three points of collaboration, including to hold inclusive stakeholder meetings, to amend Article 436 of Section 12 [of the Constitution], and to promote a democratic and federal system in the country,” he told The Irrawaddy.

Article 436 says constitutional reform can only take place with the support of more than 75 percent of the lawmakers—giving the military, which holds 25 percent of seats in Parliament, an effective veto over amendments.

Sai Nyunt Lwin, secretary of the Shan Nationalities League for Democracy (SNLD) and a member of the UNA, said the stakeholder meetings would be particularly important. “From the meetings we will agree on a framework, and then the new government will continue to work through the framework,” he said.

Parliament is preparing to amend the 2008 Constitution, which was written by the former military regime. After soliciting feedback from the public last year, a new implementation committee has been formed by lawmaker to decide what should be changed in the charter.

Over the weekend, hundreds of protesters in Rangoon, Mandalay and Pegu Division called for changes to an Article 436 and another article that currently bars Suu Kyi from the presidency.

“Political movement outside of Parliament is needed. The government needs to listen to the voice of the people while amending the Constitution,” Mya Aye said.

The UNA is an alliance that includes representatives from several ethnic political parties. The 88 Generation Peace and Open Society is a political organization born out of the student-led uprising of 1988 that almost toppled the then-military government. Many of its members were formerly student leaders of the pro-democracy movement.

In a joint statement last month, the NLD and the 88 Generation said they had been working together toward democracy for 25 years, and would join their efforts to ensure a transition to “real democracy” by amending the charter. The association between these two groups was also not new, but previously under the government of President Thein Sein they had not formally cooperated in political activities.