Kachin Leaders Demand Charter Reform to Establish Peace

By Htet Naing Zaw 7 February 2020

As the National League for Democracy (NLD) is pushing for charter amendments in the national legislature, ethnic parties are expecting changes that will help them realize their long-held dreams for equality and self-determination.

Ethnic Kachin leaders say they agree that amending the 2008 Constitution is an essential prerequisite for their aims.

While the Myanmar military or Tatmadaw has voiced concerns about ethnic states’ possible secession from the country as an undesirable consequence of federalism, none of the Kachin leaders whom The Irrawaddy interviewed mentioned secession.

They say they only want a constitution that guarantees equality and self-determination, allowing peaceful coexistence.

Any change to the constitutional provisions that provide democracy and federalism will benefit Kachin State, said Dr. Tu Ja, the chairman of the Kachin State People’s Party.

He also served as the vice-chairman of the Kachin Independence Organization (KIO), which is still fighting with the Myanmar military.

“If the Constitution can be amended, though it will not achieve peace at once, we can gradually establish federalism. Power sharing must be done over time. Constitutional amendment is as important for Kachin State as it is for other areas,” said Dr. Tu Ja.

President of the Kachin Baptist Convention (KBC) Dr. Hkalam Samson said words could not explain the importance to the country of amending the 2008 Constitution.

“I believe Daw Aung San Suu Kyi has many peaceful means to amend the 2008 Constitution. As the Tatmadaw has a tough stance regarding the Constitution, it is better for the NLD to consult with them in making changes,” he said.

It is unlikely, however, that the NLD government will be able to amend the Constitution before the 2020 general election, he said. He is, however, optimistic that there will be some changes after 2020.

“The Constitution must be changed for Myanmar to achieve peace,” he said.

“Armed groups don’t want to establish [political] parties under the 2008 Constitution. They are ready to transform themselves into parties if and when the 2008 Constitution is amended,” he added.

In Myanmar, there are approximately 20 ethnic armed groups that are fighting for their autonomy.

The NLD government is also working to hold political dialogue with ethnic armed organizations through the 21st-century Panglong Peace Conference to push ahead with its promise of a federal democratic union. But many say it is still difficult for the government to convince the armed groups to sign the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA). It is mandatory to sign the agreement to join the peace conference for formal talks, while the government’s implementation of the NCA with the ethnic signatories has been troubled.

Ten of the ethnic armed groups have signed the NCA.

“The NCA is a correct approach. But I don’t think it will be fast. I think it will be more effective if the peace process is implemented only after amending the 2008 Constitution,” said the KBC president.

NLD lawmaker U Zarni Min, who represents Kachin State’s Shwegu Township, said his party could amend the Constitution through the Parliament.

“There are many holes in the 2008 Constitution. We have seen holes that they [the Tatmadaw] did not know about. The NLD does not do what is impossible. There are other holes [that we can use to amend the Constitution]. More will be coming,” said U Zarni Min.

While many of the politicians interviewed by The Irrawaddy questioned the NLD’s plan to amend the entire Constitution, U Zarni Min said the entire Constitution must be amended to suit democracy and that incremental amendments would not be useful.

Some Kachin leaders, including Lower House Speaker U T Khun Myat, participated in the National Convention that drafted the 2008 Constitution.

Kachin participants at the National Convention told The Irrawaddy that they submitted research papers and recommendations with the hopes of establishing a reformed Union. The military leaders of the time happily accepted their recommendations, but none of them was included when the Constitution came out, they said.

“Some [Kachin politicians] participated in drafting the Constitution. But they didn’t discuss it seriously. The Constitution was written flippantly, as if the participants were on vacation,” Dr. Hkalam Samson said.

He expressed strong opposition when the military regime took steps to ratify the Constitution in a national referendum in 2008.

The country will continue to face political problems if the charter reform is not successful, said Lower House lawmaker Nhtung Hka Naw Sam of Kachin State’s Myitkyina Township.

“I think we will be successful though there might be obstacles in our way. Our party has the desire to amend the Constitution,” said Nhtung Hka Naw Sam, who is also a Central Executive Committee member of the NLD.

Kachin leaders agree with the Tatmadaw that there must be a single armed force in the country, but it must represent all the ethnic groups.

“Whether it is called the federal army or Union army, there must only be a single military in a country. That military must be based on the people and must be under the control of the people. It must not discriminate and must not engage in politics,” said Dr. Tu Ja.

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