Political Reform and Ethnic Peace in Burma/Myanmar

The Need for Clarity and Achievement
08 April 2015
Policy briefing

For many citizens a countdown begins to a crucial general election later this year, with warnings of a halt in reform momentum and a more troubling reality behind many of the socio-political changes in the country.

Important reconciliation and progress has been started in national politics under the government of President Thein Sein. But as the countdown accelerates towards a general election later this year, there is a risk that political reform and ethnic peace are faltering. To avoid this, clear markers must be agreed of processes of democratic reform and ethnic peace that guarantee the rights and involvement of all peoples and parties.

Constitutional reform and nationwide peace will be essential, and it is vital that the conduct of the general election is free and fair to ensure momentum in political reform. An inclusive political dialogue must be fostered at the national level to move beyond the practice of different parliamentary processes and ethnic ceasefire talks that do not provide a political roadmap for all citizens.

Inequitable distribution of political and economic rights between the Burman-majority centre of the country and the ethnic minority borderlands continues to drive conflict. Despite ceasefires in some regions, fighting continues in others, furthering mistrust and humanitarian suffering. Military solutions cannot be imposed. If ethnic grievances and aspirations are to be addressed, political and economic reforms must be the cornerstone of peace.

The prospect of a nationwide ceasefire agreement, political dialogue, constitutional amendments and a general election in the coming months all provide the opportunity for different parties to work constructively together. However, state failure and instability will continue if they are used to pursue conflict and self-interest by new means. Political solutions can only be built by the participation and representation of all the peoples of Myanmar.

Recommendations

Important progress has been started in national politics under the government of President Thein Sein. But as the countdown accelerates towards a general election later this year, there is a risk that political reform and ethnic peace are faltering. To avoid this, clear markers must be agreed of processes of democratic reform that guarantee the rights and involvement of all peoples and parties.

Constitutional reform and nationwide peace will be essential, and it is vital that the conduct of the general election is free and fair to ensure momentum in political reform. An inclusive political dialogue must be fostered at the national level to move beyond the practice of different parliamentary processes and ethnic ceasefire talks that do not provide a political roadmap for all citizens. It is vital that reform accords promote justice and cooperation, not exclusion and new divisions in society and politics.

Inequitable distribution of political and economic rights between the Burman-majority centre of the country and the ethnic minority borderlands continues to drive conflict. Despite ceasefires in some regions, fighting continues in others, furthering mistrust and humanitarian suffering. Military solutions cannot be imposed. If ethnic grievances and aspirations are to be addressed, political and economic reforms must be the cornerstone of peace.

International aid is welcomed as a support for socio-political reform. But as programmes diversify, it is essential that aid is targeted at the key political issues and most vulnerable communities. Solutions will not be found by only engaging, or building up, a dominant government and military system that does not represent the people; rather, it will perpetuate conflict and state failure.

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