15 Dec The year of talking fruitlessly

Written by Mizzima Published in Ed/Op Read 7704 times
Photo: MNA Photo: MNA

High-profile talks are the favourite pastime of the Myanmar political elite of late, but they don’t always yield impressive results.

The peace process launched by President U Thein Sein in August 2011 hit a bump in the road during the last two meetings between the NCCT, a committee comprising representatives of ethnic armed groups, and the government’s Peace-Making Work Committee. Those who remember participants in the peace talks declaring earlier this year that a Nationwide Ceasefire Accord would be signed before Thingyan must be losing faith in
the process by now.

The stalling peace talks have led some to take a longer view. On November 26 representatives of 50 political parties approved a draft plan for the political dialogue between the government and ethnic armed groups that is to follow the signing of an NCA.

The plan encompasses a dialogue involving MPs, the Tatamadaw, political parties, ethnic armed groups and civil society. The plan also stipulates which topics will be discussed and that the resulting accord must be endorsed by parliament.

The peace table is not the only piece of furniture attracting chatty clientèle.

On October 31 U Thein Sein shocked many by organising a last-minute dialogue in Nay Pyi Taw. The President invited 14 national political leaders. His move came shortly after a phone call from US President Obama in advance of his visit to Myanmar. Predictably, the complicated setting was not beneficial to producing tangible results. No statement was issued after the meeting.

Maybe the talks were simply a hollow gesture to please Obama and getting down to business was not part of the government agenda, or maybe the talks were meant to build trust among the 14 invited leaders. The latter could be perceived as moderately useful.

The hallways of Nay Pyi Taw will not remain quiet for long. Recently a new round of talks was announced – six-way talks this time.

It was USDP parliamentarian U Myint Tun who took the initiative. The MP proposed six-way talks involving the President, the speakers of both houses of parliament, commander-in-chief Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, opposition leader Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, and a representative of the ethnic minorities.

Dr Aye Maung, the leader of the rabid Rakhine National Party was selected on November 27 to take on the latter role.

Daw Aung San Suu Kyi has declared that she is willing to participate in the six-way talks, although she still prefers, perhaps because it was her idea, four-way talks among herself, Pyithu Hluttaw Speaker Thura U Shwe Mann, Senior General Min Aung Hlaing and the President, a set-up that negates the most important issue in transitional Myanmar: ending sixty years of civil war. Without a political solution to the “ethnic problem” there will be no “new” Myanmar.

Back to the six-way talks. Are they going to happen? Reportedly the President has vetoed this new round of talks. Comments by his spokesperson, Information Minister U Ye Htut, suggest that enthusiasm is lacking in the President’s Office.

So how serious is the government, still dominated by ex-army leaders, about discussing key topics such as federalism, amending the constitution, a changing role of the army and democratic reform? The fruitless, temporising talks in 2014 suggest not very serious at all.

It seems the powers that be want to hang on to their fading talisman of guided democracy, at least until after the general elections in 2015.

This Article first appeared in the December 11, 2014 edition of Mizzima Weekly.

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