Public Needs ‘Stronger Awareness’ of Federalism

By Nyein Nyein 17 July 2017

YANGON – The public needs a strong understanding of federal principles in Myanmar’s changing political landscape, said practitioners at a dialogue on federalism held in Yangon on Saturday.

Joined by around 100 participants, speakers at “Federalism Dialogues on the Current Peace Process and the Building of a Federal Democratic Union” urged greater public participation. The participants, mostly university students from varying backgrounds, asked about ethnic armed organizations’ role in peace process, as well as equality, self-determination and other principles related to democracy and federalism.

Having more in-depth knowledge about federal principles would particularly help young people who are keen to know more about the peace process, said Nang Ying Lao, the deputy director of Salween Institute for Public Policy (SIPP).

Aimed at providing awareness on public policies, SIPP has been providing training programs, research and development and technical assistance to ethnic armed organizations.

Nang Ying Lao said this knowledge is necessary so that the public “would be able to follow what kind of meticulous debates are ongoing [in the current peace process].”

The general public “does not easily understand why leaders argue about terms or basic principles,” Nang Ying Lao explained. “When we understand these principles, it helps us to understand and follow our country’s political and peace processes.”

Sai Kyaw Nyunt, joint secretary of the Shan Nationalities League for Democracy (SNLD) and a secretariat member of the Union Peace Dialogue Joint Committee (UPDJC), said that when it comes to federal affairs, ethnic minorities are often more familiar with the concepts than those in central Myanmar.

“If we look at the public consultations in the ethnic states, federalism knowledge is higher than among those in the divisions and regions,” Sai Kyaw Nyunt said, referring to areas that have a Burman majority.

He urged the public to at least be made aware of what federalism is on a basic level.

Mana Tun, the program coordinator of and lecturer in the Master of Arts and Peace Studies program at the Myanmar Institute of Theology, said many students are not familiar with the issues as federal knowledge is not included in school lessons. “If you ask what is federalism, many people do not know—even the topics of self-determination and autonomy.”

Naw Naw Htoo, a student enrolled in the master’s program, said that Saturday’s dialogue was a good way to learn more about the current circumstances of Myanmar’s peace process, as the speakers are also stakeholders in it. “Besides federalism, peace awareness talks are also what we need to be doing,” she said.

Nang Ying Lao emphasized that all members of civil society play a key role in spreading knowledge. “At different stages, either at the peace talks or the local talks, everyone must participate.”

“Instead of following the guidance from the national level all the time, the stakeholders—including ethnic armed group members, politicians, women, youth, farmers and so forth—can take part in peace discussions and federalism dialogue,” she said.

She said the most important thing is that when they do such dialogues; the respective authorities should not impose any ban or interfere.

“We still hear about interference on the topics of discussions in communities—this should not happen anymore. If we can organize the dialogues freely, then we can do it widely,” she said.