Kyaw Zwa Moe : This week, we are going to discuss the progression of negotiations between the National League for Democracy [NLD], led by Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, and the Tatmadaw [Burma’s military]; the role of ethnic groups in the new government; and to what extent ongoing peace talks have been successful. My guest speakers are Sai Nyunt Lwin, general secretary of the Shan Nationalities League for Democracy, and Aung Moe Zaw, chairman of the Democratic Party for a New Society. I am Irrawaddy English Editor Kyaw Zwa Moe.
KZM: U Sai Nyunt Lwin, firstly, what kind of negotiations should there be between the Tatmadaw and Aung San Suu Kyi, seeing as so far we don’t know what she and Tatmadaw Chief Snr-Gen Min Aung Hlaing talked about? To what extent does Daw Aung San Suu Kyi agree with him? On the Tatmadaw side, we’ve been hearing that no one is sure whether the military accepts Article 59(f) or not. What compromises should the election-winning party make?
Sai Nyunt Lwin: No information has been released regarding negotiations or compromises. But if we compare the current meeting to the rest of Burma’s history, these talks are very significant. If the talks are unsuccessful, that could create a bad image for both the Tatmadaw and the winning party. It would be a hurdle for our country’s future. We all have to pray for the success of these negotiations. We can’t intervene, as we do not know what they are negotiating.
KZM: Out of their dialogue, a key rumor has alleged that the Tatmadaw wanted the positions of chief minister for [some] states and regions. On the one hand, [we are unsure] whether or not this has been agreed to, particularly for Shan, Arakan and even Kachin states. For Shan state, how much has the NLD taken this into consideration?
SNL: We, the political party based in Shan State, are concerned because the USDP is the majority in the Shan State parliament. If the Shan State chief minister post is given to the USDP, it is likely that the USDP will have a leading role in Shan State politics. But for the sake of the country, we would have to live with that, face whatever comes up.
KZM: Ko Aung Moe Zaw, what do you know, from any inside sources, about the results of the negotiation between Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and Snr-Gen Min Aung Hlaing, since they’ve met three times already? Reportedly, there have been some positive outcomes.
Aung Moe Zaw: First, I would like to say it is not good for our country that the winning party has to negotiate with the Tatmadaw to form the government. To form the government is the responsibility of the government, the responsibility of the leaders of the winning party.
KZM: But the Tatmadaw’s role here is crucial.
AMZ: I want the Tatmadaw to think about it. That is one thing. But they already have control of three ministerial posts [in the cabinet], enshrined by the Constitution. And now we’ve heard that they are asking for more. But we can’t confirm whether or not this is accurate. As Ko Kyaw Zwa Moe said, we’ve also heard that they’ve asked for the state/regional chief minister posts in Shan, Kachin and Arakan states, as well as in the Rangoon region. In short, it is the National League for Democracy’s duty to form the government that we want. Negotiation is necessary, but it should not be excessive, because it would create problems for both the country and future political conditions.
KZM: Given the current situation, there are many uncertainties within the government. But regarding the recent appointments of Parliament speakers and deputy speakers, the NLD and Daw Aung San Suu Kyi really wanted to create inclusiveness, I think. U Aye Tha Aung, a Rakhine leader, has become a deputy speaker, and a Karen a speaker and a Kachin a deputy speaker. So ethnic nationalities make up three-fourths of the positions. It is likely that the NLD will also appoint cabinet members in a similar way. What percentage of government leadership roles, especially key positions, should be given to members of ethnic groups?
SNL: There might be a proposal from some ethnic groups because some individuals have expectations for this to happen. But I think many people were satisfied and optimistic about what [the NLD] had done [with the appointments] in the Parliament. People expect that the governing bodies will be formed in that way. I think they will be appointed to some extent. However, I think that the competent people should be given priority. The main challenge is corruption. They [the NLD] already struggle with many things in this country. Also, I don’t want someone to get a post as an honorable title. I think those who have the capacity and skills should be given priority. And the more ethnics there are, the better it will be.
KZM: Peace is also one of the NLD’s top priorities. Daw Aung San Suu Kyi has said that she would lead the peace process. For these positions, I think, ethnic groups and their leaders, who are more familiar with the peace process, will be more suitable.
SNL: We must include ethnic leaders because the NLD kept itself away from the peace process over the past three or four years. They did not intervene much, but they can’t avoid this now. As far as we know, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi will lead. But it won’t be only her. She will think of and include ethnic leaders who are dedicated to the peace process.
KZM: What about the current peace process? The current minister U Aung Min and his people from the Myanmar Peace Centre have held meetings with representatives from the UNFC in Chiang Mai, Thailand. It looks like they were trying hard to get the non NCA-signatories to sign. How would you evaluate this situation? Seeing as how this is a transition period, do the ethnic [armed] groups need to sign immediately? Or should they collaborate under the next government’s leadership? Which one would be better for the sake of ethnic groups?
SNL: I think there would be no development if they were to sign with the current government, because the current administration only has days left. Again, negotiations between Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and the Tatmadaw are really important. We have to put special focus on this. The non-signatory groups should also focus on this, because the announcement of who will be nominated for president will come just weeks from now, on March 17. We’ve been striving for this power transfer for 50, 60 years. This transfer has already happened in the Parliament, and it will happen for the executive sector, which is more important, on March 31. The NLD will have to form 15 governing bodies, including the 14 state and the union governments. Thus, as this is such a large burden, non-signatory groups should consider signing under the next government.
KZM: Ko Aung Moe Zaw, you had relationships with many ethnic groups when you were in exile. So how would you assess Aung Min’s peace team? How fast do they want the process to go? What would be the benefits?
AMZ: I think they will try to get credit before the end of the term. But all of the government’s projects are being closed. I think the peace process should continue under the next government. As U Sai [Sai Nyunt Lwin] said, however, there is not much time left. Therefore, I reckon the non NCA-signatories will wait for the next government. One more thing I want to add is if the NLD is considering having ethnic leaders in its cabinet, it should prioritize its long-time allies, individuals who can be trusted from democratic political parties, and select them.
KZM: I think this will happen, as we’ve already seen it happen with Parliament speakers. But one thing, U Sai Nyunt Lwin, is, what if the NLD asked you to take an important position, either in the peace process or in a ministerial post, as you already have a lot of experience as secretary of the Shan Nationalities League for Democracy? Are you ready to collaborate?
SNL: Ko Kyaw Zwa Moe, we have been doing our duty for 27 years, since 1988. If I were given an opportunity to fulfill my duty, I would have to serve.
KZM: I want to ask one more question. The current negotiations between Aung San Suu Kyi and Snr-Gen Min Aung Hlaing are crucial for the next five years. They may even be a foundation for what’s to come. If the two parties do not agree, we would have a problem. If they do, there might be great times ahead. So, what I want to know is, what will be the most crucial job, or jobs, for the new government in regards to peace?
AMZ: When we talk about peace, we only talk about ceasefires between warring groups. The deterioration of the rule of law is very much related to peace. It’s key to implementing peace. So a ceasefire to end civil war is the main task, in a sense, but it is far more important to work on a way to sustain the rule of law and to reduce corruption.
KZM: Finally, an important question for both Ko Aung Moe Zaw and U Sai Nyunt Lwin, but your answers must be short. The Tatmadaw will remain in an important role under the incoming government, led by the NLD. Under these circumstances, do you think it is possible to become a genuine federal union and to achieve equality for ethnic groups? How difficult would that be?
SNL: It can’t happen yet, I don’t think. When the Tatmadaw returns to its place as a professional entity and rule of law prevails and peace talks have succeeded, then we can hope for the type of federal union that we envision. I do not expect much now as we are still not able to solve our current problems.
KZM: Does that mean it will have to wait until a new term [administration]?
SNL: I think so.
AMZ: Unless the Constitution is changed, we can’t achieve democracy. It would be difficult to achieve peace and federalism. Amending the Constitution is crucial.
KZM: U Sai Nyunt Lwin, Ko Aung Moe Zaw, thank you so much for your contributions.