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Message on the 66th Anniversary Shan National Day

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Thursday, 07 February 2013
By: Sai Wansai

On this occasion of Shan National Day, it is essential to take stock again on where we stand as a nation, after the voluntary agreed participation in the Union of Burma in 1948. But let us go back a bit into some hard historical facts, so that the younger generation be adequately informed and the assessment of our situation clearer.

In 2006, I have written a piece on Shan National Day, which I find could be quoted again, without any change, especially to highlight the historical backdrop. It is as follows:-

The date 7th February 1947 is a defining moment in the record of the Shan history as a modern nation. On that day, Shan princes and the people's representatives of the Shan States demonstrated their newfound unity to declare it a "national day" which were followed by the resolutions of "Shan National Anthem", "Shan National Flag" and the formation of "Shan States Council" on the 11th and 15th of February, 1947 respectively. These had been done without reference to the British colonial overlords, who claimed protectorship over the Federated Shan States since 1886-87 (one year after the fall of the Burman kingdom and the Alaungpaya or Gonbaung dynasty).

The formation of the Shan States Council by Shan leaders autonomously of the British represents a declaration by the Shan that they are a sovereign, free nation. This bold action constitutes a Shan declaration of independence from foreign rule, and the date, 7th February 1947, marks the entry of the Shan people onto the world's historical stage as a modern nation.

The people of Shan States and leaders decided in this very year later at Panglong, on the 12th of February, to join with U Aung San and the AFPFL (Anti-Fascist People's Freedom League) and leaders of other nationalities, to live together under one flag as co-independent and equal nations. This marks the birth of a nation-state now known as "Union of Burma".

It is not an exaggeration to state that without Panglong Agreement or Accord, signifying the intent and willingness of the free peoples and nations of what could be termed British Indochina, there would have not been born the Union of Burma in 1948.

The notion of co-independence and peaceful co-habitation should have been the key operational words, interpreted to emphasize the shared values between the Burman and non-Burman, from the perspective of Panglong Agreement and 1947 Union of Burma Constitution.

Panglong Agreement underlines the basic points of democracy, equality and rights of self-determination for all non-Burman ethnic nationalities. But admittedly the 1947 Constitution, which was rushed to the conclusion, on the heels of the assassination of General Aung San, Sao Sam Tun and the other pre-independence interim government members prior to achieving independence from the British, was federal in form but unitary in practice, due to the trust of non-Burman ethnic nationalities upon their counterpart, Burman political leadership at that time and also lack political sophistication to read between the lines.

This uneven distribution of power, where there was no creation of Burman State which the then Ministerial Burma ought to become, inserted itself as a “mother state” instead and dominated the union government, enabling the Burman political class to lord over the rest of the ethnic nationalities, in form of colonial possessions.

To correct this constitutional flaw and unequal distribution of resources, the Shan Government together with the rest of all non-Burman ethnic nationalities, in 1961, drew up a Federal Proposal to remedy the 1947 Constitution, so that it would become a genuine federal system of government. But the Burmese military, and as well some ethnocentric Burman political leaders, saw this as a threat to Burman political domination and staged a coup in 1962.

Since then, the politics of ethnocentrism and rigid centralized form of governance has been implemented for more than 50 years, continuing to these days.

Some might argue that the present, quasi-civilian government is different for it has a multi-party system and even allows State and Regional governments – 7 new Regional governments are formed from former Ministerial Burma or Burma Proper – to be formed. But in reality these arrangements are just window dressings and never meant to earnestly devolve the administrative power to the said State governments.

A closer look at it will pinpoint the facts that State governments are not even entitled to elect their own Chief Ministers, whom only the union President could hire and fire at his will. In short, Chief Ministers are merely the President’s appointees or his agents. In addition, State governments have very limited power over language, religion, education and natural resources. In other words, State governments don’t have their own self-drawn constitution to suit their individual situation, political decision-making power, rights to administer their own natural resources and a fair share of taxation revenue.

In short, the 2008 Constitution is even worst than the 1947 one and effectively undercut all federal system arrangement, aspired by the non-Burman ethnic nationalities.

To be precise, the ongoing ethnic conflict is a product of the flawed constitution, which has its roots in Burman chauvinism or ethnocentrism and total control of the political decision-making power. Consequently, the non-Burman ethnic nationalities see the Union of Burma as a new political entity, which they have participated voluntarily in exchange for a high level autonomy within a federal system. But with the assassination of General Aung San, the Burman representative and leader, the agreed federal arrangement was never implemented literally. Instead, the politics of Burmanization and assimilation policy, somewhat mild and latent during the parliamentary years, have been aggressively implemented by successive military regimes, including the present, quasi-civilian, Thein Sein government.

The more than fifty percent of the Burma Army occupation troops – some 280 out of the total 526 Burma Army battalions - stationed in Kachin and Shan States are a living proof that the quasi-civilian, Thein Sein regime is not different from its entire predecessor, military regimes.

In short, the decades-old war on non-Burman ethnic nationalities rages on unabated, leading to gross human rights abuses committed by the Burma Army up to now.
And so, 66 years of struggle to be the master of our own faith remains unfulfilled, while the political arena becomes more complex and refined. But the essence or the issues involved are very much the same.

The military and the majority of the Burman political class are still determined to hold on to their ethnocentrism and domination of political powers, at the expense of all non-Burman ethnic nationalities’ rights of self-determination. Their mindset has not changed one little bit after all these years.

This brings us back to reality of our unfinished struggle and how we should go about to regain out long lost freedom, equality and democracy.

As it is, the game plan is being dictated by the Thein Sein regime. That is to thrash out the political differences through Union Solidarity Development Party (USDP) dominated parliament, where the non-Burman ethnic nationalities will never stand a chance to win, given that the constitution is impossible to amend. Accordingly, 20 percent of the MPs must agree to draft the initial proposal, followed by 75 percent of “yes” votes, and closing with more than 50 percent eligible, affirmative votes in a national referendum. And if one considers that the military occupies 25 percent of the parliamentary seats, without having to contest the elections, any amendment proposal would never have a chance to sail through even at the parliamentary level, not to mention the nation-wide referendum.

And as such, the Shan, in cooperation with all the other ethnic nationalities, would need to stick to outer-parliamentary solution of reaching a Panglong-like Accord first, before any constitutional amendment or total rewriting of the Union Constitution could be worked out, which would accommodate our national aspiration.

In practical terms, the approach of collective bargaining, whether it is under the banner of United Nationalities Federal Council (UNFC), United Nationalities Alliance (UNA) and even the recent ongoing, Shan Nationalities League for Democracy (SNLD) initiated trust-building process between all stakeholders, is the way to go. In contrast, cutting separate deal for the benefit of an individual group will only energize our adversary and its ”divide and rule” policy, while weakening our collective bargaining position.

Last but not least, we should continue with our "broad coalition-building" process, embracing all non-Burman ethnic forces and like-minded Burman democratic opposition groups, in our struggle for rights of self-determination, democracy and equality.

The contributor is the General Secretary of Shan Democratic Union (SDU) - Editor

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