Are Burma’s Politicians Fishing in Troubled Waters?

By Tun Tun & Moe Myint 29 November 2016

RANGOON – The Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) and 12 other political parties on Monday released a joint declaration regarding the government’s handling of current crisis in Arakan State and Burma’s north, calling for a meeting of the National Defense and Security Council (NDSC).

Burma’s military reports to the 11-member security council, which is made up of six military appointees, and those representing five positions in the civilian government, including the President, civilian vice president, speakers of the parliamentary houses, and the minister of foreign affairs. The NDSC must be summoned by top government members and holds legislative, executive and judicial powers during a state of emergency.

Among the parties that signed the joint declaration were the National Unity Party, New National Democracy Party, National Development Party, National Democratic Forces, National Political Alliances League, Modern People’s Party, Karen State Democracy and Development Party, Myanmar National Congress Party, Wunthanu Democratic Party, People’s Democracy Party, and Inn National Development Party. Nearly all were defeated by the rival National League for Democracy (NLD) in the country’s 2015 general election, when the NLD won by a landslide.

Dr. Nanda Hla Myint, a USDP spokesperson, told The Irrawaddy: “The current government is responsible for promptly addressing the concerns of all citizens amid the general crisis. [The statement is about] like-minded parties collaboratively urging the government to protect people from harm.”

The statement said that Arakan State, in western Burma, is facing the possibility of losing territory, while civilians in the northeast of the country are losing their lives and property due to war.

“Now is the time for the government to state firmly and boldly that the fundamental cause of all those incidents is insurgent organizations that have international links and carry out violent acts,” read the statement.

The statement also referenced recent bomb blasts in Rangoon, increasing crimes across the country, economic hardships and the stalled peace process as a “general crisis” threatening the entire nation. The armed forces, as a result, have taken military action on more fronts, it said.

The 13 organizations also criticized the current NLD government for the administration’s handling of the conflicts, saying that its strategies are deepening the crisis. The statement called for the convening of an NDSC meeting as soon as possible in order to consider Burma’s security, economy and threats of violence facing the country.

According to the 2008 Constitution’s Section 417, if the Union faces potential disintegration or loss of sovereignty through violence, the President can summon the NDSC and order a state of emergency across the entire nation.

Some politicians disagreed outright with the demands of the 13 political organizations. In a Monday interview with Burmese publication The Voice Daily by President’s Office spokesperson U Zaw Htay, he said, “We don’t regard this as a general crisis in Burma,” referring recent armed clashes in northern Shan State and manhunts in Arakan State’s Maungdaw Township, as well as high inflation rates and rising commodity prices.

While U Zaw Htay highlighted recent meetings which have taken place between army leaders and State Counselor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi in Naypyidaw, the government has yet to release up-to-date information about clashes between government forces and ethnic armed groups in northern Shan State clashes or about army “clearance operations” after militant attacks on police outposts in Maungdaw Township last month. Investigation processes, he said, are ongoing.

Political analyst Dr. Yan Myo Thein published his response to the move on Facebook, calling the demand for an NDSC meeting an attempt by the 13 parties listed on the statement to seek political gain from the turmoil.

The conflict in Arakan State is not new, he pointed out, citing failed actions by previous governments to tackle problems in the region. He described the NLD government and the military’s approach as a “systematic” search for solutions and dismissed the claim that the state is “losing territory” as inflated.

Burma’s civil war dates back to the independence era of the late 1940s, and has, in the decades since, uprooted millions of people and continues to displace communities through armed clashes between government troops and ethnic armed groups. Responsible politicians, Dr. Yan Myo Thein said, should—in the public interest—demand that the army’s commander in chief, Snr-Gen Min Aung Hlaing, halt fighting in northern Shan State.

“Don’t fish in troubled waters,” the analyst warned, an allusion that the statement’s signatories might be attempting to exploit the country’s crises for political advantage.

In a broadcast interview on DVB media on Tuesday, NLD spokesperson U Win Htein also said that the 13 political organizations responsible for the statement were trying to take advantage of the current challenges facing the country. Many of them, he said, had suffered a decrease in their own popularity among the public in the Burmese political scene, since the NLD took power.

“Calling NDSC is none of their business. That’s the work of government, the President and the State Counselor,” he said. “So what if we don’t call?”