The elections in Myanmar as an opportunity to re-launch the peace process

Billboard of the 21st Century Panglong Conference in Naypyitaw (Myanmar) Billboard of the 21st Century Panglong Conference in Naypyitaw (Myanmar) © European Pressphoto Agency

This article is a brief presentation of the International Crisis Group's report on the new developments in the peace process in Myanmar

The report "Rebooting Myanmar's Stalled Peace Process" is the result of the analytical work carried out in the last six months by the non-governmental organisation (NGO) Crisis Group. The report aims to understand why the peace process has come to a halt, what is needed to restart it and what new opportunities it can offer.  Thus, the study was carried out by interviewing the different governmental, military and non-governmental actors involved in the peace process. In 2016, the leader of the National League for Democracy (NLD) and Prime Minister Aung Sa Suu Kyi relaunched the peace process in the country with the Union Peace Conference, now renamed Panglong-21. In 2015, with the signing of the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA) between the government and the various armed groups, the peace process began but negotiations quickly stalled.  The causes, according to the Crisis Group, are to be found in the government's inability to understand the real complexity of the situation and in its failure to involve the two largest armed groups of the country in the negotiations. Besides, the situation has further deteriorated with the resurgence of armed clashes and with the government’s new alignment with the army - whose position has always been ambiguous and unclear.

The report shows how, as elections approach, a radical change in the peace process is possible. During the elections, formal negotiations will be suspended and resumed only when a new government will be formed - which is expected to happen in early March. To ensure the continuity of the peace process in the post-election period, the different actors decided to resume negotiations and organise Panglong-21 before the electoral hibernation. For the government, reaching an agreement would mean fulfilling one of its most important political promises in the middle of the election campaign, while for the different groups in the country it would mean avoiding the uncertainty of a new government and the possible collapse of the whole process. The suspension of formal negotiations could shift the focus to previously marginalised informal discussions, allowing to overcome several key deadlocks. Through these meetings, it was already possible to define more clearly some aspects of the NCA and Panglong-21. It is within this framework that the peace conference, although symbolic and with modest objectives, would build trust and dialogue between the various parties in the subsequent informal discussions during the election period. However, the NGO also illustrates some of the main obstacles to reconciliation. For instance, part of the current and possible future electoral success of the NLD is linked to the key role played by the ethnic majority of the Burmese people in the country's political scene. This NLD’s approach alienates ethnic minorities from the government, thus making them less cooperative and more inclined towards armed groups and local organisations - as in the case of the Rakhine in the western homonymous state.

A shift in attitude on the government and the military's side is therefore recommended, to restore trust between the parties. While considering the possibility of delays due to COVID-19, all parties are willing to continue the peace process. The government should, therefore, take advantage of the momentum to drastically change the pace. In the short term, efforts to reach the Panglong-21 peace conference are encouraged through concrete actions in favour of the different local actors - such as decentralisation of competencies. In the long term, the strengthening and flexibilisation of the NCA are suggested to make it more attractive to all actors involved and a reform of the National Centre for Reconciliation and Peace is also recommended, making it less bureaucratic, more multilateral and open to civil society. The report also stresses the need to move away from policies that undermine different minorities and, instead, include economic resources that guarantee their livelihoods in the transitional phases. These months of electoral pause must, therefore, be used by the NLD to change the terms of discussion through an informal dialogue leading to an effective resumption of the peace process.

 

To read more, please visit:

https://www.crisisgroup.org/asia/south-east-asia/myanmar/308-rebooting-myanmars-stalled-peace-process

 

Author: Matteo Consiglio; Editor: Margherita Curti

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