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NLD-led Myanmar’s upcoming challenges

NLD-led Myanmar’s upcoming challenges

SUNDAY, March 20, 2016
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After months of negotiations over the transition of power following the landslide victory by the National League of Democracy (NLD) last November, it is clear the country’s new President U Htin Kyaw has to manage relations with the military, known as the

Three meetings between the NLD leader, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, saw both agreements and differences emerge. At their last meeting at the end of February, it was obvious differences still remained as both sides could only “give” and “take” following certain demands.
From now on, they must learn how to co-exist with one another. Otherwise, the NLD government will face difficulties ruling the country with any level of stability and security.
During the transition negotiations, four outstanding issues were discussed intensely between the incoming civilian rulers and the Tatmadaw. First, it was all about the constitution and proposed amendments by the NLD leader. At this juncture, both sides agreed that Article 59(f) in the 2008 constitution, which prevents Suu Kyi from becoming president, should not be touched. At this juncture, Suu Kyi would stick to her “above president” leadership as a reconciliatory measure to work with the Tatmadaw.
Second, efforts to eradicate the 25 per cent of parliamentary seats controlled by the Tatmadaw is now placed under the rug. The military has been the most formidable force in providing security for the country since independence, has. As long as some armed ethnic groups have yet to come under the nationwide ceasefire agreement and a future political dialogue process, the Tatmadaw’s quota and role cannot be changed.
Third, was the ongoing peace process. Suu Kyi has now given full support to the ceasefire efforts, despite her earlier call for a boycott. At the moment, she said that the peace process is her government’s first priority. Several ethnic leaders were handpicked for Suu Kyi to serve in leading positions, including Htin Kyaw and the second Vice President Henry Van Thio.
As far as the Tatmadaw is concerned, whatever deals she struck with armed ethnic groups will be closely watched, especially those along the Myanmar-China border. If she crosses the red line in ways perceived as threats to national sovereignty and security, the military will not stand still. One contentious issue will be the proposed formation by ethnic groups of a federal army, which the Tatmadaw has repeatedly turned down.
Another sticking point with the Tatmadaw was the role of former House speaker, General Shwe Mann. Aung Hlaing told her that the discredited general must not be given any position with executive power in the current administration. The Tatmadaw was unforgiving after Shwe Mann tried to assist Suu Kyi to amend the constitution in two parliamentary votes in June and July last year. Both failed to go through.
The final issue was the foreign policy towards neighbouring countries, which the outgoing government wanted to impart to the NLD-led government. At this junction, pending the naming of a new Cabinet, especially a new foreign minister, there has not yet been any comment or offered vision from the new government. During the transitional dialogue, Myanmar’s relations with China and Asean were raised.
For nearly five decades, China has been the country’s key economic supporter. Under the previous government, Myanmar-China relations were scrutinised and several bilateral projects reconsidered - most notably, the multi-billion dollar Mytsone Dam in Kachin state, which was halted in November 2012.
Since 2014, Myanmar has become a game changer in the region’s politics, especially in Asean, which it joined in 1997. Nay Pyi Taw (the capital) took nearly seven years of preparation to be a successful chair in 2014, immediately raising its regional profile. Unfortunately, Myanmar’s ties with Asean have neither been discussed nor picked up by Suu Kyi or any of her lieutenants.
Asean is concerned that her government will focus solely on domestic development and fail to follow-up on integrative efforts as part of the Asean Community, which was launched at the end of 2015.
However, Suu Kyi’s personal relations with Asean remain problematic. Throughout her many years under house arrest, Asean was not on her side. After September 2007 – the suppression of monks and others seeking change, the grouping issued strong condemnation of the violence against the pro-democracy movement.
The transitional talks were carried out officially through a 5-member team headed by the outgoing Minister of Information, U Ye Htut. Other key ministers were left out completely. And certain issues were not discussed, including rising nationalism and religious intolerance.
After April 1, the new government has no other choice but to pursue a path for development and peace. As such, working together with the Tatmadaw is pivotal for the government’s survivability and stability.