Pa-O Political Dialogue Calls for a Secular State

By Nan Lwin Hnin Pwint 23 February 2017

RANGOON — The Pa-O ethnic people decided during their national-level political dialogue to present the idea of a secular state at the upcoming 21st Century Panglong conference.

“We agree that we should keep religion and politics separate,” said U Khun Tun Shwe, vice-chairman of the dialogue organizing committee. “Even in our Pa-O ethnic group, some people believe in Christianity and some in Buddhism, and their political views may therefore differ as well, not to mention the whole country.”

The political dialogue was held in Hopong in the Pa-O Self-Administered Zone in Shan State from Feb. 16-20.

Article 34 of Chapter 1 of the 2008 military-drafted Constitution states that “every citizen is equally entitled to freedom of conscience and the right to freely profess and practice religion subject to public order, morality and health and to the other provisions of this constitution.”

Critics note that religion and politics are muddled in Burma’s political landscape, as politics have long been dominated by Bamar Buddhists while some ethnic minorities practice other religions.

The dialogue resulted in 12 agreed-upon points, including that there should be new states in a future federal Union and that no parts of the Union shall secede.

The agreements of the Pa-O ethnic political dialogue are the consensus of the Pa-O people and will be put forward at the 21st Century Panglong Conference, said U Khun Tun Shwe.

The dialogue was led by the Pa-O National Liberation Organization (PNLO), a signatory group to the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA)

Under the NCA framework, signatories can submit the results of their national-level political dialogues to be discussed at the Union Peace Conference or 21st Century Panglong.

NCA signatories are expected to discuss five topics at their political dialogues—politics, security, economics, social affairs, and land and natural resources—and submit the meeting results to the secretarial body of the Union Peace Dialogue Joint Committee (UPDJC). Then, the five work committees of the UDPJC will discuss each topic and decide what to submit to the Union Peace Conference for discussion.

The 21st Century Panglong Conference was originally scheduled for Feb. 28 but because of upcoming national-level political dialogues, the conference was postponed until March.

About 1,100 delegates from the PNLO, Pa-O National Organization, Pa-O ethnic parties, Pa-O Literature and Culture Association, and civil society organizations attended the Pa-O political dialogue.

Translated from Burmese by Thet Ko Ko.