Ethnic Groups Plan to Finish Federalist Draft Constitution Soon

By Nyein Nyein 11 October 2013

CHIANG MAI, Thailand — Ethnic groups from Burma plan to finish drafting an alternative federalist constitution within three months, as the country’s Parliament solicits public input on the extent to which it should change the current military-backed charter.

An alliance of ethnic armed groups known as the United Nationalities Federal Council (UNFC) is partnering with an alliance of ethnic political groups known as the United Nationalities Alliance (UNA) to draft the alternative federalist charter, which will call for equality of all ethnic groups in Burma as well as a federalist political system to grant ethnic states more power.

The UNFC will play a leading role in the drafting process, as its members have decades of experience pushing for a federalist system, while the UNA will add input, said UNFC secretary Khun Oakkar.

“The ‘alternative’ draft could come out at the end of next month,” he said on Friday, adding that the working draft would be discussed among politicians and ethnic leaders, with a final draft ready in December.

Leaders of both allied groups met in the north Thai city of Chiang Mai, where many ethnic groups from Burma are based, this week to organize their constitutional drafting committee.

They also brainstormed discussion points for another summit of ethnic groups that will be held in three weeks in Burma, in the town of Laiza in Kachin State. The summit will be held ahead of a government-planned conference next month in Naypyidaw to consolidate individual ceasefire agreements with ethnic groups into a nationwide ceasefire agreement.

“The UNFC is calling for the government to announce the nationwide ceasefire, reposition the government troops, limit the Tatmadaw’s [government military] troop movements in ethnic-controlled areas, set up a code of conduct for military relations, and facilitate political dialogue,” said Nai Hong Sar, general secretary of the UNFC.

Redrafting the Constitution is a controversial issue among Burma’s ruling politicians and ethnic leaders. The country’s ruling party, the Union Solidarity Development Party (USDP), wants to maintain the current 2008 military-backed Constitution, while Parliament’s Constitution Review Committee is welcoming input from the public on the extent to which people would like to change the charter.

There is debate over whether it would be better to amend sections of the current Constitution or to completely scrap the charter and write a new one.

Khun Oakkar of the UNFC said he agreed with country’s main opposition party, the National League for Democracy (NLD), which has pushed for amendments.

Sai Nyunt Lwin, a spokesman of the Shan National League for Democracy, which is a member of the UNA, said ethnic groups would not be able to overcome the desires of the USDP lawmakers and the military.

“Every group is talking about their own opinions, but practically, the key is the USDP and the military,” said the Shan leader, who is vice chairman of the ethnic committee to draft an alternative federalist constitution. “They are make up the majority of the 109-member parliamentary committee [to review the Constitution], and they will discuss secretly. … The decision is theirs.”

Still, he said the ethnic allied groups would continue working on the draft of a federalist charter and would offer suggestions to Parliament.