Ethnic States Win Right to Draft Constitutions

By Htet Naing Zaw 12 May 2017

NAYPYIDAW — Burma’s seven ethnic states have won the right to draft their own constitutions, an unprecedented breakthrough in their fight for equality and self-determination, according to the leader of an armed ethnic group.

After the Friday morning meeting of the Union Peace Dialogue Joint Committee (UPDJC), Col. Hkun Okkar of the Pa-O National Liberation Organization (PNLO) told reporters “the government has acknowledged the right to self-determination for the state as we are allowed to draft the state constitution.”

“We were able to agree that we could draft our own state constitutions, which has never been done in Burmese history,” he said. “The states under the Union have never had such rights as to draft their own constitutions, but we have earned it today.”

Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, who leads the UPDJC, joined the meeting on Friday. On May 7-9, the UPDJC held a working committee meeting and a secretariats meeting on May 9-11.

The meeting on Friday approved the basic principles covering political, economic, social, security, and land and environment sectors.

The UPDJC has so far agreed to six of seven principles of the federal Union to be negotiated in the second round of the 21st Century Panglong peace conference to begin on May 24. These principles are: sovereignty, the practice of sovereignty, equality, self-determination, federal Union principles, and a multi-party democratic system.

It was decided the seventh principle—the relationship between religion and politics—needed to be discussed further.

UPDJC participants had to agree that their state constitutions do not contradict the Union’s military-drafted 2008 Constitution, which would take precedence in any possible disputes.

Pado Saw Kwe Htoo Win, vice chairman of the Karen National Union (KNU), said in his opening speech: “I am delighted to say that we, the ethnic minorities, could draft a constitution for our state and region. It is a step forward as in the composition of the federal union and I am thankful.”

The state parliaments, governments, and courts will come under the state constitutions, whose authority will be protected from Union government interference.

“If the mandates are unclear, our country could not develop any further. If the state’s mandates are clear, the Union level governance cannot revoke it,” said Col. Hkun Okkar, referring to a time when his group asked the Shan state government to regrow trees, but the state told them to ask the Union’s forestry ministry.

On the topic of self-determination, the Burma Army requested to add the words “no secession” from the Union. The meetings participant’s said “no secession” shared the same meaning as “non-disintegration” of the Union.

The meeting agreed the Burma Army would continue upholding its position of protecting the “three main national causes”—non-disintegration of the Union, non-disintegration of national solidarity and perpetuation of sovereignty.

“When we can build a federal union that fully guarantees national equality and self-determination, no one will leave the Union—even under force,” said Col. Hkun Okkar.

He said the new name of the country could be the Federal Union of Burma and the Burma Army could still be called the Union Tatmadaw to avoid any issues with it being named the Federal Army.

Burma’s ehtnic states are Kachin, Karen, Arakan, Mon, Shan, Chin, and Karenni.