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Parliament of the Union in 2010
This is a scene in Pyidaungsu Hluttaw, Parliament of Union of Burma in a period beyond 2010. In front of the chairperson of the Parliament, a People’s Representative elected by 2010 General Election is presenting an important report concerned to decide approval on the Federal Government’s annual budget proposal. Members of the Parliament are much interested on the report and paying deep attention to the People’s Representative presenting the report. In his presentation, the representative highlights the following important matters needed to consider before making decision on the budget proposal.
- When he reviewed allocation of government budget in last 20 years, he noticed that budget allocated for defence sector is around 40% to 50% of total government expenditure budget,
- but allocated budget for health sector was only 1% to 2% of total government expenditure budget in the same period, the last 20 years.
- This expenditure was just enough for 10% to 18% of health sector’s total requirement and the amount of the budget was almost utilized only for health infrastructure development such as constructing clinics, hospital etc.
- So that the gap, budget requirement on 82% to 90% of health sector expenditure was filled up by supports from UN agencies, International Development Agencies and out-of-pocket of the people in Burma.
- All these supports were utilized for health care services, immunization programme, disease prevention such as HIV/AIDS, TB and Malaria, medical research purposes and human resource development initiatives.
- The situation means our health sector relied too much on international supports and as a result, interventions in health sector were limited and not able to expand as needed especially in public health arena. As an example, interventions in three major public health problems of Burma, HIV/AIDS, TB and Malaria, confronted much difficulties in 2005 after Global Fund organization suddenly ceased their supports to Burma.
- When I look at the Government’s budget proposal again, it is very similar to allocation of budget in the last 20 years.
- Health is basic need of people in Burma. If we can rearrange budget expenditure in defence sector, a little bit reduction from 40% to 30%, and move the excess budget to health sector, that will be quite enough to fill up health sector’s budget requirement and this reallocation will truly benefit for health of the people in Burma.
- So government can allocate international supports to areas of need in Burma effectively and efficiently. People living with healthy life can utilize their saving money, previously used for their unhealthy conditions, to other needs and this grassroots level change will contribute to national development initiatives.
The Representative concludes his presentation with highlights on the link between health sector development and national development and advocates the members of Parliament to agree on reallocation of the budget between defence and health sectors and to increase budget allocation for health. After his presentation, Chairperson of the Parliament opens the floor and gives opportunity to discuss the issue among the Members of Parliament. Many representatives discuss and support the presenter’s view and when looking at the supporters, almost are People Representatives elected by the 2010 General Election.
A member of who is assigned by Commander-in-Chief of Defence Services as his representative stands up in the Parliament hall and says that:
- Great honour to the representative for his endeavour to improve health of the people in Burma and development of the nation,
- BUT, as a representative of the Commander-in-Chief to Parliament , he has a point to let members in the Parliament know that Tamadaw (the Defence Services) has the right to independently administer and adjudicate all affairs of its services that is clearly mentioned in the 2008 National Constitution under Chepter-1, Section-20( b), and
- Based on the right of Defence Services, the issue presented by the People’s Representative is beyond the scope of the Parliament and suggests all members to rethink about the matter deeply.
Two representatives of Commander-in-Chief also support their colleague’s point of view and against reallocation of the defence sector budget. Other military representatives are too silent and elected People Representatives with business background express their mood that they do not want to dispute the military representatives and do not give any comments on this matter.
Time was gradually running out and there is no further productive and decisive discussion comes out on the matter whether to reallocate the government’s budget proposal submitted by President of the State. Chairperson of the Parliament announces to vote for this matter by using his power in accord with 2008 National Constitution’s Chapter-4, Section 86(a).
The Parliament – the highest institution of legislative power in Burma beyond 2010 comprised of 498 Representatives elected by people of Burma and 166 Representatives selected by Commander-in-Chief of the Defence Services – uses its power in accord with the 2008 National Constitution’s Chapter-4, Section 103(c) and makes decision by voting whether defence sector’s expenditure budget should reallocate to health. In the result, 78% of the Representatives agree the report to increase health sector expenditure budget up to 10% of total government expenditure by reallocating some budget from defence sector. This voting result shows that some representatives of Commander-in-chief also agree on this report and the result makes great satisfaction to the People’s Representatives.
Default button and Commander-in-Chief
But the satisfaction is vaporised in a short time. While office of the Chairperson of the Parliament is preparing to make official announcement related to the voting result, the Chairperson receives a letter from Commander-in-Chief. In the letter, the Commander-in-Chief states that if defence sector budget expenditure in the government’s budget proposal is reduced and reallocate to other sector, that will drastically affect on the defence forces’ future plan of actions and this kind of action by Parliament is not in accordance with the 2008 National Constitution’s Chapter-1, Section 20(b). In his conclusion, the Commander-in-Chief makes strong comment that he cannot agree to reduce defence sector’s budget expenditure and suggests the Chairperson and Parliament members to find alternative ways for the needs of health sector budget. A few days after the event, the Chairperson receives another letter again from the Commander-in-Chief and in the letter; the Commander informs that he has substituted 10 representatives among his 166 representatives to the Parliament.
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This is a scenario came in mind after reading the 2008 National Constitution of Burma and thinking is just based on a function and power of Parliament and it is ended up by supreme power of a position. If important constitutional matters were be thought in this scenario, the scenario will take so many pages for events such as un successful submission of proposals to revise the constitution, failure at voting though the proposals are success, confrontations in organizing referendum though votes agree to call national referendum for revised 2008 National Constitution, military coups though referendum approve the revised National Constitution.
But a significant matter will be clearly seen in the long story that is after the 2008 National Constitution comes into operation, military coups in Burma will be constitutional right and responsibility of Commander-in-Chief of the defense services. As a result, upcoming military governments will not have legitimacy problem which is the intense headache for the junta today. Therefore, opposition groups’ today responses on the current junta like establishing parallel government and parliament in exile, and conducting credential challenge to the junta’s representative to the United Nation will not be seen on Burma political stage beyond 2010.
Lesson learned from above scenario is that the Commander-in-Chief’s has set default buttons in the 2008 National Constitution. All functions of the state – judicial, legislative and executive branches – will look like a computer programme for Commander-in-Chief of defense services and he can reset the programme whenever he wants by using the default buttons.
A Painful Experience
Political parties in Burma, different opposition groups and activists in exile, and leaders of ethnic minorities organized and supported vote ‘No’ or ‘No’ vote campaigns before and during the National referendum in 2008. The reason why they supported and organized the campaigns is they had noticed the default buttons. In other words, the 2008 National Constitution is designed to be manageable one for a position, Commander-in-Chief of the defense forces and person at the position can control all the functions of judicial, legislative and executive branches of the state whatever the wishes of all People’s Representatives are.
Regarding the constitution, the UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon made a proposal to the junta’s supremo in March 2008, before the referendum and in the proposal, Ban suggested five issues: firstly, to allow establishment of UN Special envoy Mr. Gambri’s office in Rangoon, in Burma; secondly, to release political prisoners including Daw Aung San Suu Kyi; thirdly, to make direct dialogue between Daw Aung San Su Kyi and Senior General Than Shwe; fourthly, to review the drafted National Constitution together with NLD and ethnic leaders who were not able to take part in National Convention since 2004; and fifthly, to establish National Economic Forum to discuss issues related to economic, social and humanitarian assistances to Burma. But the junta refused all five points of the UN SG’s proposal and arranged National Referendum in May 2008. By using various ways to get approval on the 2008 Constitution designed by military officials and civil servants, the junta announced that 92% of voters in referendum approved the National Constitution.
At the beginning, NLD actively participated at the National Convention organized by the junta in 1993. After three years participation in the convention, at sixth meeting of the national convention in 1996, NLD representatives to the convention pointed out that the procedures applied in this convention are not in accordance with democratic practices and ignored proposals, discussion points and comments of people’ representatives. All representatives in the convention are pressured to design national constitution according to wishes of the junta.
They repeatedly requested the junta to review the procedures and cooperate with representatives but the junta’s officials ignored as usual. Finally, the NLD representatives to the convention boycotted the meeting for 2 days. But the junta’s reaction to the act of NLD was permanent rejection on the NLD. Chairperson of national convention’s organizing committee, General Myo Nyunt announced that the committee permanently rejected NLD to the convention because of 2 days absent in the meeting. When the national convention restarted again in 2004, the junta did not invite NLD to come and join the convention.
In addition to NLD stand point, ethnic parties also pointed out the issues like NLD in 1996 but nobody can prevent the junta’s unilateral actions in national convention and as the result, the junta was able to design National Constitution to be tailor-made one which will keep longer life of militarism and authoritative leadership in Burma.
Searching a way
Now, we are facing the 2008 National Constitution and the junta said it is approved by 92% of voters at the national referendum. Furthermore, general election organized in accordance with the constitution has to come in 2010. The reality is we have to pass 2010 election and after the event, we have to see politics in Burma like the scenario presented at the beginning of the article. The situation causes status quo for both sides as all oppositions do not want to take part in the Election, at the same time the junta have been tied by its roadmap.
In the recent time, NLD made a great move to change the status quo that is Shwe-Gon-Daing declaration. In the declaration, NLD stated that it intends to participate in the elections if all the political prisoners including the leaders of the NLD were unconditionally released, the provisions of the (2008) Constitution which are not in accord with the democratic principles were amended, and all inclusive free and fair general elections were held under international supervision. The declaration opens a door to the junta to review and revise the constitution without affect on its sense of self-importance.
Dialogue: key to change the status quo
NLD’s four dialogue agenda proposed in the Shwe-Gon-Daing clearly states that unconditional dialogue participated by the decision markers should be commenced immediately based on the principles of mutual respects and national reconciliation, and during the dialogues the issues of provision of equal opportunities for the ethnic nationalities and arrange to recognize the result of the 1990 elections by approving the result of the dialogues at the People’s Parliament which is to be formed according to the People’s Parliament Election Law. Finally, all the stake holders will follow unitedly the political course for the future delineated by the agreements of the dialogue as adopted by the People’s Parliament.
If the junta is standing for people of Burma and working to be a developed and modern state, as it always says, there are no unacceptable matters mentioned in the NLD’s declaration. The declaration creates a condition in which the junta will able to accomplish its legal promise in 1990 election between step-4, National Referendum, and step-5, General Election without deviating to the junta‘s seven-step roadmap. The declaration is the best solution to change the status quo without affecting dignity on both sides and they will have chance to review and revise the problematic constitution and make democratic reform which is real need of the people and the country today.
Challenges to NLD
As mentioned above, today’s political crisis is mainly based on the 2008 National Constitution. In order to solve the crisis, the best attempt in these days is NLD’s Shwe-Gon-Daing declaration and its dialogue agenda is the best solution. In reality, NLD had made extensive efforts to reach dialogue with the junta and the declaration is the latest attempt. Based on previous experiences, a prediction can be made that this attempt will has to face series of challenges in soon.
The first challenge is the junta supremo Senior General Than Shwe’s preconditions for the dialogue. When he cannot escape from intense international pressure after Saffron revolution in 2007, he told the UN Secretary-General’s special envoy Mr. Gambri that he is going to make dialogue with Daw Aung San Suu Kyi when she says she will not do confrontation, utter destruction and supporting sanctions. In analysis the preconditions set by General Than Shwe, the words, confrontation and utter destruction are very subjective and those will create conflicts before dialogue. So the preconditions clearly means that the junta supremo have no intent to make meaningful dialogue. In reality, all these preconditions will be automatically disappeared if a meaningful and result-oriented dialogue can be made between the general and the lady. In order to overcome this challenge, an influential negotiator will be definitely needed to negotiate between NLD who proposed unconditional dialogue and the junta supremo who proposed three preconditions before the dialogue.
The second challenge is trust building. The generals and their fellows have lack of trust on political parties and democracy values. An evidence of their lack of trust is speech of the Commander-in-Chief of defence services at 64th Armed Force Day in March 2009. In the speech, the Commander-in-Chief Senior General Than Shwe said that if looking back to history of the country, from YMCA1, GCBA2, and Dobama Asiayone3 to AFPFL4 in middle, Pyithu yèbaw5, Burma Communist Party and National United Front in end, all political parties ended up with loose, disorganized and separated position. He also said that armed forces is only one organization since its establishment stand for people in Burma in each and every national affair and he made remark not to rely on political parties’ capacity and capability for national development. It means the general has no trust on political parties and at the mean time he organizes his fellows not to believe the parties like him.
This mind-set is really problematic for the future of the country and will make problems along the way to reach proper democratic system. Obvious outcomes of the mind-set are the design of the 2008 National Constitution and giving various reasons and setting pessimistic preconditions to avoid dialogue. Without trust, there is no away for trust building. In order to overcome this challenge, oppositions should do more advocacy to the generals to realise that these days are the best time to do national reconciliation because while they have organise their armed forces, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi have organise people in Burma including ethnic. If the both sides work together effectively, they can build a well united and developed nation. This is everybody’s expectation in these days.
The third challenge is communication between the party and the people in Burma. Nowadays, the junta treated NLD, amputated his all limbs and plugged wools in his mouth. In order to overcome this challenge, NLD will need to make improvement on its media and communication channels to be better than today. Because of lack of or poor communication, people feel that they have lost leadership which feeling is worsened by 20 years duration of the attempt in restoration of democracy in Burma. NLD will need to create available and suitable media and channels to convey its important messages to people in Burma.
The fourth challenge is time. 2010 will be in soon. In order to counter the junta’s moves in timely manner, NLD will need to consider any possibilities in advance and make contingency plans for every possibility. The junta strategically hide the time frame in his all works including the seven-step roadmap. A thing needed to remember is the junta’s arrangement before National Referendum. The period between date of publishing the draft national constitution and date of National Referendum was only one and half month and that was junta’s intention to make not enough time for people and party to study, criticise and mobilize vote ‘No’ to the referendum. Now, the junta will use the same strategy again in setting date of general election and publishing election law.
The fifth and last challenge is dishonesty and untruthfulness of the junta. In its history, the junta did not follow its promises, even the law and statements those enacted by itself. Furthermore, it has attitude which can ignore the state of hundreds of thousands people were dying in disaster while it was managing for its desired results from the referendum. For this challenges, the most appropriate message liked to convey to NLD is to do hope for the best and be prepared for the worst.
New Modern and Developed Nation
In conclusion, NLD has to pass the near future full with challenges. Hoping the junta’s attitude and practice will be changed in soon is too optimistic and NLD attempt alone is not enough to see the change too. However, all the thinking above is just consideration on two actors in the Burma political field. To be reality, all other faces of the junta should be taken into account such as the junta vs. other political parties, the junta vs. cease-fire groups, the junta vs. ethnic armed forces, the junta vs. UN, ASEAN, EU, Governments like US, UK, Australia, and International organizations, the junta’s social and economic environment, the junta and China, Russia, India and Thai governments.
If every actor in all faces makes attempts to change the junta’s current practice and attitude, and sets same objective and target, and uses appropriate approach to the junta, and Burma’s armed forces personnel become appreciative and considerate on the political parties’ and politicians’ endeavour for the people and the country, the scenario presented at the beginning of the article will be needed to rewrite again. The Parliament in above scenario will become a place to discuss the best thing, decide the best way, and negotiate to see best outcomes for the people and the country. That scenario will bring the nation to be new modern developed.
May 9, 2009, Saturday