Govt ‘Ready to Finalize’ Nationwide Ceasefire: President

By The Irrawaddy 5 May 2015

RANGOON — Burma’s President Thein Sein has said his government is “ready to finalize” a long-sought nationwide ceasefire agreement with more than a dozen ethnic armed groups, and is “waiting for the outcome from the ethnic summit” that is ongoing this week in eastern Shan State.

In his monthly radio address to the nation on Monday, the president said his government’s aim in pushing for the nationwide ceasefire was “to leave a foundation for the next government to build on—one where there is no more fighting and political dialogue has started.

“All parties have accepted that the only way to resolve armed conflict is through a political solution. Therefore we are trying our best to begin the dialogue as soon as possible,” he said.

But given the tenor of ongoing discussions among ethnic armed groups in Panghsang, a town in eastern Shan State controlled by the United Wa State Army (UWSA), the 70-year-old president’s eagerness to ink a countrywide peace deal looks increasingly contingent on his government shepherding another major political achievement through Parliament: the passage of amendments to Burma’s military-drafted Constitution.

The gathering of ethnic armed groups, hosted by the UWSA, began on Friday and is due to conclude on Wednesday. Attendees have included senior leaders from ethnic rebel groups including the Kachin Independence Army (KIA), Karen National Union (KNU), Restoration Council of Shan State/Shan State Army-South (RCSS/SSA-South) and Arakan Army.

Bao Youxiang, the UWSA chairman, said Monday that some ethnic armed groups would not sign the nationwide ceasefire accord unless the 2008 Constitution was amended.

“The main key is to have amendments to the Constitution. If there are amendments to the Constitution, other ethnic groups, including our Wa, will sign the [accord],” Bao Yuxiang said.

Brig-Gen Tun Myat Naing, commander in chief of the Arakan Army, echoed that sentiment.

“We want to get the 2008 Constitution amended before the 2015 election,” he told The Irrawaddy, referring to nationwide polls due late this year. “The peace [process] will not be successful unless the Constitution is changed.”

Drafted by Burma’s former military regime and approved in a rigged referendum in 2008, the charter has been criticized as undemocratic, owing to provisions that grant 25 percent of seats in Parliament to unelected military representatives; ban opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, the country’s most popular political figure, from the presidency; and centralize authority in a way that ethnic groups say has stymied their political aspirations.

Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) party and the pro-democracy group 88 Generation Peace and Open Society organized a nationwide petition to amend the Constitution last year, garnering nearly 5 million signatures in favor of the cause.

A parliamentary Constitutional Amendment Committee has been tasked with drafting a bill to amend the charter, and the matter is expected to be discussed during the next session of Parliament, which is due to convene on Monday.

The Union Parliament speaker, Shwe Mann of the ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), said in November that a required referendum on constitutional amendments would be held in May. That is looking all but impossible at this point, and talk has turned to the possibility of holding a referendum in tandem with the general election in November.