The RSIS Centre for Non-Traditional Security (NTS) Studies' Blog

Upcoming Myanmarese Elections: Irreconcilable Differences?

Posted in Internal Conflicts and Human Security by NTSblog on September 27, 2010

Myanmar is approaching its elections this year on 7 November. Concerns related to the continued attempts by Myanmar’s governing junta to entrench its supremacy and dismay that the upcoming elections are unlikely to be fair and free, tend to dominate discussions. Crucially, Professor Holliday discussed in a recent journal article options for Myanmar’s State Peace and Development Council (SPDC) to manage its relations with ethnic minorities. Addressing the ongoing dissatisfaction amongst Myanmar’s ethnic minorities is vital for security and stability within Myanmar. Prof. Holliday recommends ‘assimilation’ and ‘ethnic enclaves’ as viable options.

Prof. Holliday qualifies his recommendations by stating these are for the long-term.  The article recognises the difficulties related to determining with accuracy, the distinct ethnic groups in Myanmar. The article acknowledges that Myanmar’s national movements are diverse and each has its own identity. There is no unified ethnic movement, and therefore, no single solution can be determined.

Nevertheless, the following are observations related to Prof. Holliday’s recommendations:-

‘Assimilation’ May Not Curb Ethnic Politics

Firstly, ‘assimilation’ may be too modest an option for a country in which ethnicity has been used as political means of gaining power.

Consequence of Current ‘Assimilation’ Policy

In 2009, Myanmar’s army clashed with ethnic Kokang’s Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army. The clashes were partly a response to Myanmar’s SPDC’s attempts to co-opt ethnic minorities concentrated along Myanmar’s border-areas, to become border guards through application of provisions contained in its Constitution 2008, Clause 338, Chapter VII entitled ‘Defence Services’.

Military Superiority and ‘Ethnic Enclaves’

Provisions to empower ethnic communities will be illusory because the Constitution stipulates that the military will appoint 25 percent of members to regional and state Hluttaw (People’s Assembly). However, the planned resettlement of Burmans, who are the nation’s majority, to ethnic minority areas reduces the control persons from ethnic minority groups have on who is appointed to represent them in the assembly (see pp. 14 of link). Furthermore, the Constitution, particularly Article 20 (b), entrenches the legitimacy claimed by the military for its  superior governing role; to prevent the disintegration of the Union of Myanmar. Struggles for power by ethnic minority groups have been likened to acts of disintegrating the Union.

‘Ethnic Enclaves’ Not a Substitution

The nature of enclaves informed by the provisions of Myanmar’s Constitution is unlikely to be accepted by the minorities. The current Constitution does not address the appeals by ethnic minorities for federalism, to be given power to block decisions that go against their interests and sufficient guarantees that the military will not resume attacks on them.

The upcoming elections are not going to bring significant progress to the relationship between central government institutions and ethnic minorities. Before it could be seen what route ethnic minorities take in the upcoming elections, the junta has expressed an intention to disallow voting in several areas where ethnic minorities are dominant; Kachin, Kayah, Kayin, Mon and Shan states, including four townships in the Wa self-administered division.


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