Ethnic Politics in Burma: The Time for Solutions
Following the shake-up of Burmese politics last year, the country's military leaders now face the challenge of introducing a new system while ethnic tensions and exclusions remain.
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Burma remains a land in ethnic crisis and political transition. In 2010 the military State Peace and Development Council (SPDC) laid out the landscape for a new era of parliamentary government. In 2011 the authorities face the challenge of introducing the new political system. Ethnic divisions and political exclusions, however, are emerging in national politics, threatening a new cycle of impasse and conflict.
Ethnic peace and political inclusion are essential if Burma is to overcome its post-colonial legacy of state failure. Since independence from Great Britain in 1948, political and ethnic strife have continued through all eras of government. The social and humanitarian consequences have been immense. Burma is one of the world’s poorest countries, with population displacement, drug-related problems and infectious disease rates disturbingly high in the ethnic borderlands.
A critical moment is approaching. A new political system is being introduced, and progressive decisions can yet be made. But uncertainty is increasing. Will the new government be the SPDC in new guise or will it be a platform from which ethnic peace and multi-party democracy can truly spread? The stakes could not be higher. The decisions made by Burma's leaders in the coming year could well decide the country's future for a generation.
- An inclusive endgame has long been needed to achieve national reconciliation. But political and ethnic exclusions are continuing in national politics. If divisions persist, Burma’s legacy of state failure and national under-achievement will continue.
- The moment of opportunity of a new government should not be lost. It is vital that the new government pursues policies that support dialogue and participation for all peoples in the new political and economic system. Policies that favour the armed forces and military solutions will perpetuate divisions and instability.
- Opposition groups must face how their diversity and disunity have contributed to Burma’s history of state failure. If they are to support democratic and ethnic reforms, national participation and unity over goals and tactics are essential. All sides must transcend the divisions of the past.
- As the new political era begins, the international community should prioritise policies that promote conflict resolution, political rights and equitable opportunity for all ethnic groups in national life, including the economy, health and education. Continued repression and exclusion will deepen grievances – not resolve them.