From ethnic unity to democratic federal Union

The historic site where the Panglong Agreement took place during the Panglong Conference . Photo: L Sai
The historic site where the Panglong Agreement took place during the Panglong Conference . Photo: L Sai

By Dr. Aung Aung Min

This year marks the 71st birthday of the independence of Myanmar. The independent Myanmar is now over 70 years old. But sadly, we cannot fully build a true Union, national solidarity and a peaceful and prosperous state till now.
The internal strife that broke out in 1948, when the nation regained independence, has not died down yet. In this regard, the civilian government has been finding ways to end the internal strife through the Union Peace Conference: 21st Century Panglong, with the participation of the Government, the Tatmadaw, the ethnic organizations and the people’s representatives. All the stakeholders — the Government, the Tatmadaw, and the ethnic peoples – should hold talks through transparency, mutual trust and understanding and bilateral compromises to reach this end.
The Thirty Comrades led by General Aung San and political leaders had made strenuous efforts to free the country from the colonialist rule. They could drive out the colonialists and Fascists by mobilizing the consolidated strength of all the ethnics of the Union. General Aung San led the Anti-Fascist People’s Freedom League (AFPFL) in striving hard to restore independence soonest. The Aung San-Attlee Agreement was reached in January 1947.
As regards his vision on the formation of a consolidated Union and the ethnic affairs, General Aung San presented the following five-point policy statement at the preparatory session of the AFPFL Conference.
1. To form the independent Myanmar as a republic
2. To provide all the ethnic races with their original rights, and transfer the state power to them
3. To ensure equal rights under democracy, and to protect the minority from the influence of the majority
4. To set up a Union as Unitary State is out of the question
5. To ensure progress for all the races and peoples through the establishment of a Union that promises collective efforts for economic growth.
The said policy was adopted as the basic principle in the discussions held by General Aung San and leaders of hill regions in Panglong, Shan State, in the interest of all the ethnic races. After the conference, General Aung San and all the participants signed the Panglong Agreement. Hence, the 12th of February 1947, the day on which, the Panglong Agreement was reached, was marked “The Union Day”.
3. Saya Zaw Gyi, a well-known writer of Myanmar, compiled an article “The Union and I” after the independence was restored in 1948. Following are some of exerts of his article.
“Now our country has retained independence. We are under our own Flag and Emblem. We have our own President, Parliament, Government and Armed Forces. We are standing tall among the nations around the world. So, what do we need now? The main thing we need is the spirit of self-reliance.” In this way the writer explained the essence of independence.
In the article the writer continued to say, “The heritage of the Union is not owned by a single race. It is a property that belongs to all the ethnic brethren. So, it is a bounden duty for all to protect it through amity and unity.”
As for the consolidation of national unity, the strengthening of Union Spirit and the perpetuation of the Union, Saya Zaw Gyi wrote, “The territory of the Union does not belong to a single ethnic group of Myanmar. It belongs to all the ethnic Myanmars such as Kachin, Kayah, Kayin, Chin, Mon, Myanmar, Rakhine and Shan. Every race is the inheritor of the Union. So, there must be mutual feelings of amity and respect, and understanding, among all the ethnic races of our land, besides unity and a sense of oneness and trust. We must work to inculcate them anew.” Unfortunately, the current leader of the Myanmar people has to visit every part of the country including remote areas and hill regions in person till now to rebuild the peace.
Since the time of independence struggles, the objective of the national leader General Aung San had been the equal rights and sharing of joys and sorrows. The independent Union emerged as the national leaders sacrificed life in restoring independence. But the ethnic peoples cannot fully enjoy equal rights because of the geographical obstacles between the plans and mountain regions, continuous armed conflicts in the remote border areas, and the administrative weakness throughout the past successive eras.
We have witnessed the endeavours of the Civilian Government in office for the harmonious progress of all the states and regions regardless of their topography. And we are happy to learn that it is prioritizing the mission of materializing all the rights owned by the national brethren.
The following is an excerpt of the speech delivered by President U Win Myint in Loikaw, Kayah State, on 1 January 2019.
“We have made a resolve to turn the country into a democratic federal Union State. A democratic state assures every citizen the right to enjoy equality, justice and equity. As our country is formed with various ethnic races, the term “Union” will be meaningless, without the involvement of ethnic brethren. In this regard, we have declared to set up a democratic federal Union.” If we are going to establish a democratic federal Union, we must build trust between the Government, the Tatmadaw and ethnic groups and restore peace without fail.
The Government has been finding the answer to the problems through negotiations with the Tatmadaw and ethnic groups based on the fundamental principles at the successive sessions of the Union Peace Conference: the 21st Century Panglong. We will reach the goal of national peace, only through the inclusive involvement of all the ethnic groups at the Union Peace Conference: the 21st Century Panglong. We must be aware of the words and actions that may cause disunity at this critical juncture.
The State Counsellor once gave a directive, saying, “We will reach our aspired goal if we all walk along the path of the Union, while counting on each other’s strength and serving as each other’s reinforcement.” We all must take into account the directive seriously.
In fact, the ethnic brethren are like the passengers on the same boat heading towards the same direction. The Union which is home to ethnic races can be protected only with the consolidated force of its inhabitants. So I conclude my article by declaring that there is no other force than the united strength of our ethnic races to build the democratic federal Union.  (Translated by TMT)

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