I welcome and greet all distinguished guests who have come to attend the opening ceremony of the Union Peace Conference – 21st Century Panglong, Fourth Session. May you all have good health and well-being.
The Union Peace Conference – 21st Century Panglong has now reached the fourth session. All those who are concerned with this conference have worked strenuously with deep regard and commitment for peace to move this process forward. Just as our negotiations were gaining momentum, we met difficulties because of the need to prevent, control and treat the COVID-19 pandemic. Even during this period of travel restrictions, and strict health rules and regulations, leaders and representatives of different groups are now assembled in unity in this place today, at this time, in this convention hall. This shows our firm determination to work with resolute spirit for national reconciliation and peace of our country and our Union no matter what difficulties we may have to encounter.
In this same convention hall, last year in October 2019, at the 4th anniversary of the signing of the NCA (Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement), I urged that we should all strive to reach an agreement for signing Part III of the Union Accord in three parts. At this present conference, we will be able to sign Part III of the Union Accord in three parts; for this, I wish to thank all those who have worked to make this happen. On that day, at that time, at that ceremony, I said that we have to establish a genuine Democratic Federal Union; in accordance with a federal system we needed to have power–sharing, resource sharing, sharing of tax revenues, all federal units should have equal status, states should have their own state constitutions capable of guaranteeing the right to self-determination. I also spoke about the basic principles which would ensure that in the exercise of powers shared to the states, it should be based on the people. At the moment when we are about to sign the Union Accord, out of the five basic principles, one important principle which is the right of states to formulate their own state constitutions, in other words, guarantee for self-determination, could not be incorporated into the agreement although very tough negotiations were held late into the evening on 12 August; we had to leave it as “to be discussed further”.
Although we could say that the reason this had to be left behind was that agreement could not be reached on the use of the words “state basic law” and “state constitution”; it was the result of attempts to define the meaning of words. In actual fact, this is because of concerns and anxieties existing on both sides. If we made further analysis of these concerns and worries, we would be able to see clearly and distinctly that it was because of looking with suspicion and not having enough trust.
In the 1947 Constitution which emerged based on the Panglong Agreement which was signed by my father and ethnic national leaders, fellow founders of the Union in the last 20th century, it was stipulated thus “all matters relating to the state constitutions would be done in accordance with the law so long as they do not contravene the articles of the Constitution.” If we look at today’s 21st Century Panglong discussions, everyone is in agreement about the right of states to formulate their own state constitutions without contravening or going beyond the bounds of the Union Constitution. With respect to the depth and inherent meanings of phrases and terms for which agreement could not be reached; if both sides saw and understood, I believe that we could negotiate and reach agreement and allay the fears and anxieties. Regarding this, we will have to continue our negotiations with patience. The main thing we have been able to overcome was our deadlock regarding “not to secede” and “the right to self-determination”. With regard to the right of states to formulate their state constitutions, which would need to be discussed further, I have a positive feeling that we would be able to come to an agreement in the not too distant future. We will continue to work on this to reach an agreement shortly.
Changes during the past five years
In a way, we could say that the reason we are looking at each other with fear and anxiety and have mistrust may be because of the impact of over 70 years of armed conflicts. One reason for having a lack of trust is because of the absence of the willingness to do “give and take” and compromise.
It may sound because of an unwillingness to do “give and take”; it could also be because of a weakness in the culture of “give and take” and compromise. There are also some instances where some people think erroneously that to compromise is to admit defeat. It is important to show practically that it could be beneficial for the Union by exercising “give and take” and compromise. If we look back at the past period of a little over four years, we were able to reach agreement on the basic principles; in the past, these things were unthinkable, these things were very difficult to reach an understanding; we did this in the interest of our country with the future interest of the Union. There are those who are criticizing us, of course. They said – Democratic Federal Union, equality, power–sharing, self-determination, all these are general terms. “What has changed”, they said. I think our critics have perhaps forgotten that between “what is fundamental” and “what is easy” that are many practical differences. Just like “Metta” and the “Loka Pala” principles, although terms like equality, self-determination, power– sharing, are very simple basic principles which had been established since the founding of the Union, I am sure all of you will understand that for these principles to become a practical reality and to be practiced in daily life, it is rather very difficult.
The Union Accord, which we will sign at this conference represents the basic principles which we have been able to adopt. These have been the aspiration of all ethnic nationals for so many years; we have aspired for them but without success; this is our solemn promise to practice in daily life this programme without fail. Therefore, the movement for national reconciliation and peace which we have all marched hand-in-hand is indeed a historic movement. It is also a historic milestone which all of us have been able to erect together.
Peacebuilding is greater than working for the welfare of Union and national people. It is also a noble deed. Peacebuilding is more meaningful than the silence of gunfire, bomb explosion and armed clashes. Instead, peacebuilding is aimed for rooting out an underlying attitude that caused the ‘bad politics’ which focused on the power of weapons to gain an impression, get respect and to achieve success; peacebuilding is the ultimate goal of peacemakers; it can only be regarded that we could perform our duties well; although there are no gunfire and bomb explosion today, we could experience armed conflicts in the following day; a genuine peacemaker is the one who could end ‘bad politics’ and its underlying attitude which depends on weapon power and might.
Dialogues are not enough to remove such evil culture and attitude; some meetings were held to last longer the negotiation and to restore power for those who just rely on the power; the negotiation meetings failed to turn out results although relevant persons are using beautiful words without having a positive attitude; when we are working closely together to solve the problems, we need to practice a political culture to give and take by substituting a bad culture with a new culture; so, I am emphasizing the establishment of a good culture as it is difficult to eliminate bad behaviours.
It is required to be familiar with the practice of ‘give and take; it was regarded as a defeat and no one was willing to follow this way in the history; With the concept that negotiation could not find the solution, power was built to avoid the defeat, and the conflicts have prolonged due to the idea of ‘power is the key’; actually, realizing the benefits of ‘give and take’ could build trust gradually; self-trust will be followed by a mutual trust on the dialogue partners and leading to the confidence on the whole collaborative works for ensuring achievement of objectives.
Two options for the Union
Peacemaking process is not an isolated phenomenon; it is related to the economic development of the country, the impacts of COVID-19 on health and education sectors, effects of global economic recession on Myanmar, the New Normal lifestyle beyond the pandemic, holding the upcoming democratic elections, increasing international power competition and geopolitical situations.
As peacemaking efforts in Myanmar are connected with these situations, we have experienced new chances and lost some opportunities; I would like to strongly urge the Tatmadaw, the signatories of NCA and non-signatories of the ceasefire agreement to tightly hold the emerging opportunities from the peace process; the welfare of our Union could bring about the interest of relevant organizations.
Our country or our Union has severely suffered from the armed conflicts over 70 years; the world’s longest civil war has occurred in the country; how many years the country will continue suffering uncertain future; it needs to be considered; some immediate and significant impacts from the lack of peace and conflicts are the losses of lives, property, businesses, trades and investments, while we have actually lost education for generations and the future of the country, as well as the health and dignity of people, and countless losses; over 70 years the country has suffered great losses worth of trillions in total and the future of Union and the lives of younger generations in the Union; the history has tasked us for building peace nowadays.
Should we continue wandering the evil routes which have been over 70 years, or should we take the new peace way to the future Union? We have two options in front of us. Which road will be taken? We can choose one of those; we need to have serious consideration at the junction about the future of our Union; before making a step forward, it is required to think about the Union and the younger generations of national people living in this Union.
Peacemaking processes beyond 2020
Before concluding, I want to highlight the future peacemaking process and related works.
The Part III of Union Accord which will be signed in the 21st Century Panglong Conference includes the five topics—
(a) National reconciliation
(c) Democratic reform
(d) Establishment of a Federal Union
(e) Amendment of 2008 Constitution
Agreements have been made on phase by phase processes and step by step implementation beyond 2020; it is a remarkable result and an historic outcome of our efforts in the past four years; I would like to express thanks to all the stakeholders who patiently tried to reach these agreements.
If these five topics will be implemented in three processes for peace beyond 2020.
The first process is the parallel implementation of national reconciliation and peace in which negotiations will be made with non-signatories of NCA for ceasefire and peace talks; meanwhile, enforcement of ceasefire agreements with NCA-S-EAOs, the effectiveness of ceasefire monitoring processes and implementing the reform process in upward momentum; at the same time, we will work for promoting the people of ethnic rights in line with basic principles in the Union Accord, for harmonizing legal reforms which are prior to the pledges for federalism and for equalizing the works in the administrative sector.
The second process is the simultaneous implementation of democratic reform and establishment of a Federal Union; this process will discuss the remaining three points of its basic principles to find out the standard provisions in the constitutions of states; meanwhile, in line with the Table (1) of phase by phase implementation in the post–2020, the framework for political dialogues must be reformed in a practical way and trying to make agreements on the Table (2) in this processes; more discussions will be needed to carry out a harmonious implementation of reconciliation in politics and security for democratic reform and establishment of a Federal Union.
The third process is the Constitution amendment based on the agreements from the first and second processes; a common political agreement could be made from the discussions on the step by step processes based on the basic principles; amendments of laws and Constitution will be carried out with the participation of experts in work committees as per the roadmap of NCA; the process to write own constitutions of the states and to harmonize security and reconciliation works will also be carried out.
The successive administrations could not accomplish national reconciliation and peace through specific approaches over 7 decades; the NCA has emerged during the term of the previous government; the NCA is the initial step for national reconciliation and peace; the present government have paved a new way for implementing the step by step processes in the post–2020; it would be the way for any new administration for peace and establishment of a Democracy Federal Union.
I would like to make a concluding remark that the expectation of Union will be a far–away dream until we could not bring about justice and equality; we need to seriously review the lessons in the history; we need to cure painful feelings of national people by our consideration; while we are nurturing the fledgeling democracy, we will have to continue working for the establishment of a Federal Union which could make the dream of national people make true.
It is very important for all the national brethren to join hands in building a Union that could address the ongoing challenges of the country; the world will not awaiting us in moving forward; the lack of empathy for the awkward situations of national people will not fulfil the dream of new Union; we need to share the awful feeling of our national brethren.
It is required to share specific values of national people to emerge the attitude and opinion of ‘Our Union’; negligence on the instability of other areas and irresponsible attitude to set aside the future of next generations must be removed by empathy and right views; the cooperation of national people will force those who are preventing and deteriorating peace to opt for the path of peace.
Therefore, all need to put their forces into peace process; while the stakeholders in peacemaking processes are leading to emerging a Democracy Federal Union, our people also need to insert their force into this work from the back; it is strongly believed that we could establish the expected Union when this collective strength reaches the highest degree; before we passed away, we want to enjoy peace in our country; with the belief of ‘peace is essential’, people are urged to cooperate in peacemaking processes and to push for peace.