Public Consultation Explores Potential for Future Political Party

By Moe Myint 31 March 2017

RANGOON – In a two-day public consultation with stakeholders, four veteran activists from the 88 Generation Peace and Open Society discussed power politics and the potential for changed civil-military relations under the leadership of a new political party.

Prominent activists, U Ko Ko Kyi, U Min Zeyar, U Mya Aye and Ko Thet Tun led the conference at the Union of Myanmar Federation of Chambers of Commerce and Industry from Thursday to Friday. About 500 participants from across Burma and dozens of political analysts, environmental experts, aid agency representatives, rights advocates and exiled political activists joined the forum.

The stakeholders frankly debated a new approach to civil-military relations, as well as sustainable economic policies, a federal Union, party principles and structures, democracy and human rights, social and environmental justice and gender equality, among other topics.

A political expert, Dr. Yan Myo Thein, a panelist on the issue of political organizational structure, remarked that the public consultation forum signifies a positive step in developing Burma’s political culture.

Political parties in Burma are often formed from the top down, said Dr. Yan Myo Thein, who pointed out that even the ruling National League for Democracy (NLD) was not exempt from this trend.

“I am confident that the formation of a new political party and nomination of its leader would meet democratic norms,” he said.

In early March, the 88 Generation Peace and Open Society told reporters that they aimed to form a new political party in 2018, and contest in the 2020 elections.

Dr. Yan Myo Thein pointed out during the discussion that although Burma has 92 political parties, only 23 of them have seats in Parliament, including 19 ethnic parties which have minimal representation; additionally, many parties only appeared in the election campaign period.

“Political leaders in Burma are only showing their emphasis on paper, not on the ground,” he added.

Leading 88 Generation activist U Min Zeyar said, “Give us duties and let us take responsibility.”

U Ko Ko Kyi said that they presently could not reveal more information about a potentially new party, as they are only in the initial stages of inviting interested persons in an implementation committee, and will later hold several debates on policy, party structure, and even a name.

Hot topics in the discussion included the amendment of the 2008 Constitution, the role of army in Burmese politics, and decades of unresolved armed conflict.

Arakan National Party Lower House lawmaker U Oo Hla Saw, who acted as a panelist in the discussion, agreed that the army must withdraw from the political field. However, he said that since the NLD took office one year ago, there has been a lack of transparency regarding whether the government, President, or State Counselor had negotiated with the army chief regarding a retreat from the Parliament. He pointed to a military offensive carried out against the Kachin Independence Army during the 21st Century Panglong peace conference as an example of this disconnect between the government and armed forces.

“Was this offensive acted just under the orders of the army? Or does the government know about it at all? Why didn’t the government prevent it?” U Oo Hla Saw said.

Political analyst U Min Zin suggested that a new political party draft a national security policy in order to promote a stronger civil-military relationship in Burma, decreasing the role of the military in power politics and promoting human security.

Initially, he explained, the party should establish an informal meeting with army leaders, and make clear how the army could be upgraded under a civilian government. As Burmese politics lacks sufficient political institutions, U Min Zin explained, personal relations would be crucial in moving forward toward the introduction of a more formal mechanism linking civil and military leaders.

“Our democratic transition will not succeed if we fail to set up a civil-military relationship,” he said.