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MYANMAR INSTITUTE OF STRATEGIC AND INTERNATIONAL STUDIES

Seminar on Understanding Myanmar
(MICT Park, Yangon, 27-28 January 2004)

Myanmar Roadmap to Democracy: The Way Forward

Presented by H-E. U Khin Maung Win
Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairsof the Union of Myanmar

Introduction

On 30th August 2003, in his address to the Members of the State Peace and Development Councils, Government Ministers, Heads of Departments, Non-Government Organizations, Prime Minister General Khin Nyunt stated that Myanmar will be implementing a 7-step programme for Myanmar's transition to a democratic state,

The 7-step Road Map includes:

1. Reconvening of the National Convention that has been adjourned since 1996;

2. After the successful holding of the National Convention, step by step implementation of the process necessary for the emergence of a genuine and disciplined democratic state;

3. Drafting of a new constitution in accordance with basic principles and detailed basic principle laid down by the National Convention;

4. Adoption of the constitution through national referendum;

5. Holding of free and fair elections for Pyithu Hluttaws (Legislative bodies) according to the new constitution;

6. Convening of Hluttaws attended by Hluttaw members in accordance with the new constitution;

7. Building a modern, developed and democratic nation by the state leaders elected by the Hluttaw; and the government and other central organs formed by the Hluttaw,

Today, Myanmar is vigorously implementing the 7-step Roadmap which represents the way forward for a brighter future for the whole country. It is a programme based on the objective conditions in the country as well as the aspirations of the entire people.

Specific Conditions, Special Circumstances

Each country in the world has it own special and sometimes unique conditions which differentiate it from others. The same holds true for Myanmar. A comprehensive understanding of the policies, practices and activities of Myanmar would only possible by comprehending the country's special circumstances.
Myanmar has existed as an independent kingdom for thousands of years. It has always been proud of its culture, traditions and values. Therefore, colonization by Great Britain was a great shock to the psyche of the Myanmar people. After the regaining of independence in 1948, the Myanmar people are deeply jealous of their independence and sovereignty and are determined that they will never be subjugated by an alien power. Sense of patriotism and nationalism still runs very deep in Myanmar. A case in point, Myanmar became the first nation that refused to join the Commonwealth following the regaining of independence due to nationalism that refused to accept the British sovereign as head of state:

Another distinguishing feature of the Myanmar society is the influence of religion, particularly Buddhism which is practised by over 90 per cent of the people. Accordingly, wealth in Myanmar not only means material affluence but also spiritual advancement, especially peace of mind and contentment. The Myanmar people are by nature kind, gentle, and tolerant. Moreover, good society to Myanmar is the equilibrium of atta (individual desire) and Para (working for the good of the community). Thus democracy is not just conferring basic rights but also obligations and duties to the state.

Myanmar is a Union composed of more than one hundred different national races, each with its own culture and traditions. Politically, there cannot be lasting peace and stability in the country without national unity. Unfortunately, the divide and rule policy practiced by the British colonialists resulted in suspicion and discord among the national races. This subsequently lead to armed insurgency that spread to various parts of the country for decade. The question of achieving national unity and bringing to an end the armed insurgency are vital issues for any government, past, present and future.

Since the days of the struggle for independence, Tatmadaw the Armed Forces have played a leading role in national politics. Whenever the country faced a crisis, it was the Tatmadaw that had stood in front of the people to protect the nation and the interests of the people. In 1949, at the height of armed insurgency when the country was in flames; in 1962 when splits in the ruling political party threatened to ignite a severe civil war; in 1962 when the nation faced disintegration due separatists and in 1988 when chaos and anarchy reigned in the country and people lived in fear for their lives and property, it was the Tatmadaw that stepped in to save the nation.

Another special feature that deserves attention is that Myanmar is the only country that shares common borders with the two most populous countries in the world namely China and India. Moreover, Myanmar acts as a land bridge connecting South and Southeast Asia, Thus, peace and stability in Myanmar is important not only to the people of Myanmar but also to the region as a whole.
Therefore, to fully understand Myanmar, these special characteristics that distinguished Myanmar from other countries must be taken into account.

Overcoming the Challenges

The special circumstances surrounding Myanmar culminate in unique challenges for the Government,

The biggest challenge is the question of national unity. Today, as a result of the Government's endeavours, notable success has been achieved in this regard. For decades, there had been discord among the national races due to the British divide and rule policy and therefore it is most important to change the mindset and to instill a sense of national identity and a sense of belonging to the Union. The Government endeavours to spread the Union Spirit which underscores the fact that all the national races are brethren that live together in harmony through weal and woe.

The regions where the national races live are the most remote and least developed areas in the country. The Government has concentrated its efforts to bring progress and advancement to these regions. The political commitment of the Government can be seen by the fact that a Central Committee for the Progress of the National Races and Border Areas headed by the Chairman of the State Peace and Development Council Senior General Than Shwe was formed to provide guidance and supervision in this noble task. Likewise, a Working Committee headed by the Prime Minister General Khin Nyunt oversees the endeavours for developing the border regions. In addition, a separate Government Ministry named the Ministry for Progress of Border Areas and National Races and Development Affairs was created to look after the day-to-day work.

This is the first time that so much attention has been accorded to the welfare of the national races. In this regard, during the time of the present Government, it has spent more than 50 billion Kyats and over 500 million dollars to improve the economic, basic infrastructure, education and health conditions. A growing transport network connects the border areas with other parts of the nation. The Government constructed 2812 miles of earthen roads, 1683 miles of gravel roads and 309 miles of tarred roads and upgraded 3030 miles of roads in border areas spending over 27 billion kyats. In addition, a total of 43 large bridges, 661 small bridges and 16 suspension bridges were built in the border areas. In the education sector, the Government had constructed 627 primary schools, 61 middle schools and 62 high schools, spending over 3 billion kyats. Primary medical health care is now available to many regions for the first time. The Government spent over 1.4 billion kyats constructed a total of 52 hospitals, 82 dispensaries, 29 rural health centers, and 40 rural health care centers (branch) in border areas. Improvement of economic conditions has also generated greater income for the people. Indeed, some of the localities in the border regions even enjoy better facilities than their counterparts in the central parts of the country. Subsequently, the national races today enjoy higher standards of living and better quality of life than ever before.

Myanmar is today enjoying unprecedented peace and stability. With the return to the legal fold by 17 armed groups the issue of armed insurgency that has plagued the nation since the time of the regaining of independence is almost over. However, it should be remembered, that these groups have approximately one hundred thousand people still under arms since the agreement is to allow them to retain their arms for their own security until the emergence of a new constitution. The danger is that should there be major differences, the possibility exists for them to take up arms against the Government, thus re-igniting the circle of violence. As such, extreme care must be taken in dealing with these groups.
Another challenge that the country faces is external pressure. Some western countries continue to exert political, economic and diplomatic pressure and sanctions against Myanmar for their own motives. If their interest is to see the rise of democracy in Myanmar and not just the benefit of an individual or an organization, it is high time for them to realize that such efforts will not only fail but will be counterproductive. Thus Prime Minister General Khin Nyunt stated in his address on 30th August that "Such actions will not contribute to democracy. The more one pressures us, the further will it become. However, as we already have the correct objective, we will work together with the people so that there will be no deviation from the path that we have chosen"

Implementing the Roadmap

The Government has already initiated steps for the implementation of the road map. The major steps include on the one hand preparations for the holding of the National Convention and on the other creating a positive atmosphere conducive to the successful holding of the Convention.

The emergence of a new enduring State Constitution is the most important key in building a new nation. In this regard, the holding of the National Convention is not only the first step of the 7 steps road map but also the most crucial one. It may be recalled that the State Law and Order Restoration Council (Declaration No. 11/92) issued on 24th April, 1992 stated that the State Law and Order Restoration Council will convene the National Convention in order to lay down the basic principles for the drafting of a firm and stable Constitution.

The formulation of the State Constitution will be based on the following six objectives:

1. non-disintegration of the Union,

2. non-disintegration of national solidarity,

3. perpetuation of sovereignty,

4. flourishing of a genuine multiparty democracy system,

5. development of eternal principles of justice, liberty and equality in the State,

6. for the Tatmadaw lo be able to participate in the national political leadership role of the State.

To give the chance for all segments of the society to have a say in the drafting of the new constitution, the National Convention is composed of representatives from the following 8 strata of society:

1. delegates of political parties,

2. representatives-elect delegates,

3. delegates of nationalities,

4. delegates of peasantry,

5. delegates of workers,

6. delegates of intellectuals and intelligentsia,

7. delegates of State service personnel,

8. other invited delegates.

The National Convention first met in 1993 and before it was adjourned in 1996, it was able to accomplish the following tasks.

(a) identified the chapter headings to be included in drawing up the State Constitution and their order of arrangement, (the 15 chapter headings can be seen in the annexure)

(b) laid down 104 basic principles for formulating State fundamental principles (see annexure)

(c) laid down the detailed fundamental principles on the chapters on the State, State Structure and the Head of State

(d) laid down detailed fundamental principles in prescribing self-administered divisions or self-administered zone

(e) laid down detailed fundamental principles for formation of the Legislature

(f) laid down detailed fundamental principles for formation of the Executive

(g) laid down detailed fundamental principles for formation of the Judiciary


As mentioned above, the National Convention will be reconvened in the near future. Towards this end, the 3 main organs needed for preparatory work has already been reconstituted. They are the National Convention Convening Commission, the National Convention Convening Work Committee and the National Convention Management Committee, These committees are holding meetings in preparation for the convening of the National Convention.
In addition to the above preparations, Prime Minister General Khin Nyunt has already met with 13 National Races Groups in order to sound out they have views on the political programme. All the groups had voiced their supports to the 7-step Road Map and their wiliness to participate in the National Convention.

Conclusion

Today, Myanmar is in transition to a democratic state. The democratic system that it envisaged is one that is in accordance with the objective conditions of the country as well as the aspirations of the people. The democratic system being built in Myanmar may not be identical to those of other countries giving the unique situation and circumstances of the country.

In this regard, I wish to recall the words of Former Malaysian Prime Minister Dr, Mahathir Mohamad who stated that "Asia and Asian nations must be free, truly free. No one should impose their values or ideologies or systems on Asia, While everyone should be concerned over human rights, the environment etc, no one from within or outside Asia should appoint himself or his country as the policeman charging himself with the responsibility to ensure that everyone behaves. Asian countries are mature enough to know what is right and what is wrong. Any attempt to undermine the sovereignty of independent countries through subverting nationals should be condemned roundly by everyone."

We are also encouraged by the positive international response to the Road Map, Thus, the 9th ASEAN Summit in Bali last October stated that: "The Leaders welcomed the recent positive developments in Myanmar and the Government's pledge to bring about a transition to democracy through dialogue and reconciliation. The roadmap as outlined by the Prime Minister of Myanmar that would involve all strata of Myanmar society is a pragmatic approach and deserves understanding and support. The Leaders also agree that sanctions are not helpful in promoting peace and stability essential for democracy to take root."
Moreover, in the joint communique issued on the occasion of the visit of the Indian Vice-President H.E. Mr. Bhairon Singh Shekhawat stated that: "The
Vice-president of India expressed support for the national reconciliation process and progress in the transition to democracy in Myanmar"

The Road Map declared by Prime Minister General Khin Nyunt shows the way forward far our country. Together with our people, we arc determined to fully implement the 7 steps with the participation of the entire people. It is our hope that the international community will also show understanding and support for this most important venture for the country.

 
     
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