Introduction and Instructions
A Constituent Assembly is an instrument of representative democracy assembled to draft or adopt a constitution. The members of a Constituent Assembly are citizens themselves building a set of internally imposed actions. A Constituent Assembly is, therefore, not unilaterally imposed by a single lawmaker or set of rulers.
In this simulation, delegates are tasked with rectifying some of contemporary Myanmar’s dysfunctions through a list of proposed reforms to the Cabinet of Myanmar. These demands should prioritize the direction and success of Myanmar, not the triumph of one political faction over another. To that end, delegates will not represent specific politicians in the parliament or Cabinet. Rather, delegates represent political outsiders including activists, ethnic group leaders, and members of militia groups, and should come to committee armed with knowledge of the range of political, economic, and social issues facing Myanmar – especially those considered below.
Despite the fact that Myanmar’s present military-authored Constitution was implemented in 2008 by referendum vote, this outcome is widely regarded as suspect by the international community and by the leading National League for Democracy (a political party) because of reports of fraud, voter intimidation, and ballot stuffing. As the decade anniversary of the passing of this constitution approaches, the situation in Myanmar remains largely precarious. The 2015 Human Development Index, which measures factors of human capital, gender inequality, poverty, and public health, ranks Myanmar 148th out of 188 countries. Similarly, the 2015 Corruption Percentages Index ranks Myanmar 147th, reflecting the military’s widespread exploitation and manipulation in state affairs – another issue the committee must tackle.
After more than a century under British colonial rule, Burma gained independence in 1948. Aung San, the paramount leader of the independence movement, formulated a proposal to unify the ethnically stratified country. He proposed that if the minority peoples seeking independent statehood joined with the core Burman territories in the Union of Burma they would in ten years have the option of seceding from that union. Aung San was assassinated before independence was achieved, though, so the country’s first years as a representative democracy were marred by strife between the majority ethnic Burmans and Shan, Karen, Rakhine, Mon, Indian, and Chinese minorities.
When the ten year mark of secession arrived in 1958, the military executed a coup d’etat. The disorganization and ineptitude of the civilian government lead to fears of a communist takeover, so the military intervened to maintain control over the non-Burman territories and run the country; the constitutionally guaranteed right of succession for the non-Burman peoples was not honored. In 1962 the military carried out another coup d’etat, establishing a true police state. This military regime adopted isolationist and socialist policies which crippled the economy; a black market economy soon emerged. Burmese socialism failed and the military was reduced to ruling by naked force.
Civilian indignation against political repression, corruption, and food shortages boiled over in protests of 1988. The army opened fire on dissidents, killing several thousand, and displacing and jailing thousands more. The following year, the military changed the country’s name to the Union of Myanmar and permitted elections after the United States imposed economic sanctions. The central opposition party, the National League for Democracy (NLD) won 392 of 485 legislative under the leadership of Suu Kyi, the daughter of Aung San. The military junta, however, refused to honor the will of the people and peacefully transfer power to the elected leaders; soldiers arrested Suu Kyi and forced members of the NLD into exile. In 1991, Aung San Suu Kyi wasawarded the Nobel Peace Prize while still under house arrest.
International attention to the situation on Myanmar returned in late 2007. The military junta suddenly eliminated all fuel subsidies in turn triggering price hikes. The minimal electric, automotive, and industrial activity that went on beforehand became cost prohibitive. The subsequent protests were led jointly by Buddhist monks and NLD figures; the involvement of religious leaders heightened the legitimacy of the opposition movement on the international stage. Several months later Cyclone Nargis struck southeast Asia and claimed over 140,000 lives. The military regime could not deflect from the scrutiny and Western leaders, international rights advocates, and the UN called for a humanitarian intervention.
The military junta succumbed to the pressure for reform and officially announced a seven step roadmap to democracy in 2008, which included a referendum vote on a new constitution and multiparty elections in 2010. After the 2008 constitutional referendum was declared fraudulent by many international spectators, Suu Kyi and the NLD boycotted the 2010 round of voting. The constitution, though, which guarantees the military 25% of the seats in the civilian legislature still stands.
The junta formally abdicated supreme leadership in 2011 and the government has since introduced a number of political and economic reforms. Notably, the NLD returned to the formal political process and with the support of outside actors was able to negotiate the release of several hundred political prisoners, the relaxation of pervasive censorship, and the revision labor laws.
The United States and other world powers have removed sanctions and taken a renewed interest in tapping into the country’s economic potential; the geopolitics of foreign investment add another dimension to the conversation. Persisting concerns include the role of the military, the treatment of ethnic minorities, particularly Muslims, and the pace of economic development.
Human Rights Abuses/Rohingya
The plight of the Rohingya, a Muslim minority group practicing Sunni Islam, is not a new issue. Indeed, in recent years the situation has intensified, but the persecution of Rohingya in Myanmar began in the late 1970s. Since, hundreds of Rohingya have been murdered at the hands of radical Buddhists as well as state authorities and tens of thousands more have fled.
The estimated one million Rohingya in Myanmar are concentrated in the Western Rakhine state where they clash with dominant Buddhists on religious and cultural fronts. Although they have existed in the contemporary Rakhine state since the fifteenth century, every Burmese government has since 1948 denied them formal recognition and rights. Further, the state refuses to grant Rohingya citizenship and legal documentation accordingly, effectively making them stateless. And despite some being able to vote in 2008 and 2010 elections, neither the Rohingya or any of the other Muslim minority groups in Myanmar have representation in the new democratic government. The widespread anti Muslim sentiment perpetuated by Buddhist nationalists permeates the military and civilian legislature equally. Finally, government policies restricting marriage, taxation, access to information, employment, education, freedom of movement, organization, and expression have deliberately normalized discrimination.
Beyond systemic disenfranchisement and exploitation, Rohingya are subject to extraordinary violence. In 2012, when a group of Rohingya men were accused of raping and killing a Buddhist woman, Buddhist nationalists began burning entire Rohingya villages to the ground. The wave of violence coming from this event has claimed the lives of several hundred Rohingya and displaced over 150,000. Large numbers of soldiers have been deployed throughout the state to supposedly maintain security in accordance with the law. Credible witness reports corroborated by independent organizations indicate that police have helped organize anti-Muslim campaigns, participated in the burning of homes, schools, and mosques, and repeatedly denied humanitarian aid workers and journalists alike access into the Rakhine state following incidents. During security sweeps, for example, soldiers have indiscriminately begun to fire at men, women, and children and drag people from their homes by the limbs and execute them. Authorities have also been known to arrest hundred of Rohingya at a time without acknowledging criminal wrongdoing. Dozens have died, been tortured, or disappeared entirely while in custody. It is also not uncommon for women and girls to abducted and raped during raids after the men have fled or been captured.
Displaced Rohingya live in one of 41 sordid internment camps or (those who can afford it) risk being trafficked to neighboring countries. In 2014, more than 88,000 tried to flee by sea only to be denied by navies of their destination countries; many have died stranded at sea. Facing international pressure to alleviate the perennial flow of refugees, Indonesia and Malaysia have agreed to take those in life-threatening conditions in until they can be repatriated elsewhere. Regardless of where they end up, Rohingya refugees have no legal documentation or cultural ties whatsoever and are once more cut off from employment, education, healthcare, and political representation. With assimilation and repatriation inviable options, the Rohingya are in many ways a stateless people.
The extrajudicial killings, random attacks, sexual assault, destruction of property, confiscation of documents and assets, restriction of aid and services to the Rohingya in Myanmar constitute a pattern of forced displacement and abuse that is one of the most alarming human rights crises in the world today.
Curiously, Suu Kyi and the NLD have been reluctant to acknowledge the severity of the situation and claims of ethnic cleansing – perhaps because such position are not politically expedient in domestic politics and would sully the opposition’s image as committed to an equal and just Myanmar.
Watch this video to view Suu Kyi’s defense of her position:
Demilitarization/Internal Armed Conflict
In October 2015, the government signed a ceasefire agreement with 8 armed groups after two year of negotiations – negotiations which included 15 groups. 7 declined to commit to the agreement citing apprehensions over the military’s hand in the semi-civilian government. Notably missing from the accords was the Kachin Independence Organization/Army, which controls vast areas in the Kachin state (bordering China and India) and dissolved a 17 ceasefire with authorities in 2011.
Unsurprisingly, the Kachin state is the site of much armed conflict in Myanmar today. It is also home to many of untapped natural resources including gems, minerals, timber and industrial sites along major rivers. Minorities in the Kachin state are primarily Christian Baptist or Roman Catholic. The Kachin Independence Organization serves a de-facto administration providing civic programs like health, education, and relief aid. The affiliated Kachin Independence Army, however, has maintained a distinctly hostile defensive posture. When tensions boiled over in 2011, the KIA destroyed bridged and infrastructure, obstructed supply routes, laid landmines, and armed their borders. In response, Burmese armed forces have take similar actions and established several footholds. Regional civilians, religious minorities like the Rohingya, are caught in the crossfire. Accordingly, human rights abuses and forced displacement (https://www.hrw.org/sites/default/files/reports/burma0312ForUpload_1.pdf) are issues here as well. Nevertheless, the Kachin State is only one of a number of militarized zones in contemporary Myanmar as the map below illustrates; over 15 paramilitary groups occupy territory and operate similarly to the KIA. And the 2015 ceasefire agreement (applying only to 8 groups) is designed to prevent violence, not necessarily demilitarize, so conflicts may flare up over in coming years.
After winning landslide victories in 2015, elections, the NLD has supported the peace process despite not participating in the military negotiations. More importantly, though, the NLD-dominated civilian legislature has no authority in military affairs, and cannot take concrete steps to end conflict and begin demilitarization – only the military can. This precarious divide has proven an insurmountable obstacle in the short history of Burmese democracy.
Moving Forward/Economic DevelopmentA central component of the democratization process has been rolling back state control of the dysfunctional economy. After decades of isolationism, Myanmar has remained cut off from the growth of neighboring Thailand and China, but to revive the economy the transitional administration has vowed to reduce the state’s control of education, energy forestry, mining, healthcare, and telecommunications. This panacea approach is being coupled with foreign intervention in the form of grant aid, loans, and technical expertise. The focus of the efforts (http://www.reuters.com/article/us-myanmar-investment-idUSBRE8A204F20121103) remains building the rudiments of a modern economy: a financial system that moves beyond black market and cash trades and incomes that support both subsistence and capital goods purchases.
Questions to Consider
- What have been the most significant obstacles in the development of peace in Myanmar?
- What actions can be taken to engage the groups excluded from the current ceasefire agreement?
- How can the delicate relationship between the military and civilian branches of government be sustained over time?
- What countries (if any) have successfully integrate ethnic minorities in political dialogue and how?
- What role should the international community (the UN, NGOs, foreign governments) play in the peacebuilding process and domestic affairs generally?
- Is the pace and nature of foreign investment in Myanmar appropriate? Are foreign entities taking too much or too little and at what expense to the civilian population?
- How does economic growth impact peacebuilding?
|Aung Thu||Rector of Yangon University, National League for Democracy|
|Aye Maung||Chairman, Arakan National Party|
|Dr. Manam Tu Ja||Chairman, Kanchin State Democracy Party|
|Dwe Bu||Member of Parliament, Unity and Democracy Party of Kanchin State|
|General Thura Tin Oo||Chairman, National League for Democracy|
|Khun Htun Oo||Chairman, Shan Nationalities League for Democracy|
|Ko Ko Gyi||Activist, National League for Democracy|
|Ko Ni||Legal Advisor on Constitutional Reform, National League for Democracy|
|Nay Phone Latt||Blogger and Activist, National League for Democracy|
|Nurul Islam||Chairman, Arakan National Rohingya Organization|
|Sai Ai Pao||Chairman, Shan Nationalities Democratic Party|
|Susanna Hla Hla Soe||Head of Karen Women’s Action Group, National League for Democracy|
|Than Tin||Chairman, National Unity Party|
|Win Htein||Senior Official, National League for Democracy|