First, I would extend a greeting to officials of the Union, officials of National Reconciliation and Peace Centre (NRPC), officials of the respective ethnic armed organizations (EAOs), representatives of the respective groups, heads of international organizations and ambassadors of foreign missions and all the delegates attending this fourth session of the Union Peace Conference: 21st Century Panglong, and wish you all a peace of mind.
Although it is the fourth session, in fact, it is the fifth session if the Union Peace Conference held during the former government set up under the multiparty democracy system is added. According to the list of comprehensive meetings between the government and the EAOs, there was also a meeting between the government and the three parties of the National Democratic United Front (Ma-da-nya-ta) — the KNU Party, the New Mon State Party and the Karenni National Progressive Party – and the Burma Communist Party (BCP) in 1963 during the time of the Revolutionary Council Government. So, it can also be said the sixth session.
Our country practiced monarchy till it lost its independence in 1885. There were Bamar kings, Rakhine kings and Mon kings and the hilly regions had Kachin duwas and Shan chieftains. With the united force of all the national races of the country, the First Myanmar Kingdom (Bagan period), the Second Myanmar Kingdom (Taungoo period) and the Third Myanmar Kingdom (Konboung period) were established. The British launched three aggressive wars against Myanmar, and annexed Rakhine-Taninthayi in 1824, the lower Myanmar in 1852 and the entire country in 1885. Myanmar lost its independence and the monarchy met its end when the British put Myanmar under its empire. Under its divide-and-rule policy, the colonialist restored the chieftain administrative system and the duwa administration under its full supervision. All those systems had ended since 1959 during the post-independence period.
Our country experienced various kinds of administrative systems including the Diarchy and the 91-department under colonialist rule, and it adopted the parliament democracy system when regained independence in 1948. The Caretaker Government and the Revolutionary Council Government assumed state duties during the period from 1958 to 1962, and the Burma Socialist Programme Party (BSPP) governed the country under socialist system from 1974 to 1988. The SLORC and the SPDC assumed state duties till 2010 from the time unrest occurred in 1988 amidst the democracy movement, and laid the foundation of multiparty democracy system aspired by the people. Since then, the country has been practicing the multiparty democracy system till now in accordance with the wishes of the people. I have recounted all those events as knowledge of the evolution of the administrative machinery of the country.
The world still has the countries that practice monarchy, but their system is much different from the past as the power is limited. In our country, the monarchy, chieftain rule, the parliamentary system and socialist system of the past had already ended. Now we are on the road to multiparty democracy. We cannot live in the past. We must join hands and take part in the multiparty democracy adopted in accord with the aspiration of the people.
Now, let me deal with the issues “ethnic rights” and “minority rights” that can be found almost in the talks or in writings on peace. Our country has over 130 national races, and all are enjoying equality and equity. The Constitution of our country comprehensively stipulates the rights and pledges for the entire people and citizens including all the national races in the Chapter I, in Basic Principles of the Union and the Chapter VIII in connection with the fundamental rights and duties of citizens. In fact, they are not lesser than the norms of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR).
We need to raise the issues of “ethnic rights: and “minority rights” only in the absence of equality and the presence of discrimination. But there is no discrimination between the majority and the minority in any matters including the legislation, administration, judiciary and social development. The first President or the Head of State of the country after the independence was restored was Sao Shwe Thaik, the Shan national, and his successor was Mahn Win Maung, the Kayin national. Nowadays, the national people are also serving the Union level duties under the multiparty democracy system of the country. Since the past the country has renowned Bamar intellectuals as well as other national academics including Mon and Rakhine intelligentsias. Based on their efforts, all the citizens of Myanmar have been enjoying their rights.
As I often said, it is necessary for all of us to bear in mind that we are Myanmar. It is necessary for all of us to avoid terms and feelings like ethnic rights and minority rights that can undermine trust and encourage disunity, inferiority, and doubts. Such feelings mitigate the motivation of stakeholders. It is the nature of humans that one has greed and desire to want more than others. However, we should be aware that we are the people who live together in a family or a union. The concept that rights must be demanded can destroy the spirit of cooperation and efforts. Only when we can promote the spirit of exerting efforts, will we be able to achieve a union based on federalism we desire. Only then, will we be able to uphold unity as one’s own flesh and blood. All of us must cooperate with the Union Spirit without finger-pointing.
As for the affairs of national races, Section 22 of the constitution of our country stipulates that the Union shall assist to develop language, literature, fine arts and culture of the National races and to promote solidarity and socio-economic development. Regions and States are delineated under Section 49 of the constitution and self-administered divisions and self-administered zones are delineated under Section 56 of the constitution. Moreover, Section 161 (b) and (c) of the constitution stipulate that Region or State Hluttaw shall be formed with representatives of the Region Hluttaw, each is elected from each national races determined by the authorities concerned as having a population which constitutes 0.1 percent and above of the population of the Union. If national races want to participate more comprehensively in legislation, I would like to advise all to consider the current election system and the proportional representation (PR) system.
Democracy and federalism are defined in various ways. Democracy means democracy owned by and of the people, democracy for the people, and democracy opted by the people. In essence, it is a people-centered public administration. It is an administrative system elected based on the will of the majority of people. Federalism is a concept of sharing mandates in cooperation among different regions, states, national races, and ethnic groups. In essence, it is a concept of unity and sharing. As federalism is just a concept, it cannot be understood dogmatically and it can vary based on a particular country, geographical region, race, and religious faith. We have agreed in the first paragraph of the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement which aims to end armed conflicts and achieve sustainable peace that we will establish a union based on the principles of democracy and federalism.
The fundamental prerequisite for establishing a union based on the principles of democracy and federalism is internal peace. Successive governments have exerted efforts to achieve internal peace and to end armed conflicts since regaining independence. The Tatmadaw has actively participated in the efforts. However, it is necessary to take into account why peace has not been restored so far. I have already talked about this in previous events, meetings and discussions. I would like to point out three main factors. The first one is the dishonesty in implementing the peace process. The second is the desire to link the peace process with other processes and the third is the weakness in upholding decisive basic principles.
First of all, stakeholders are required to be honest in implementing the peace process. After regaining independence, the AFPFL government held negotiations with the then powerful BCP armed group many times. The BCP always exploited the situation then. The policy laid down by the central committee of the BCP in 1955 or 55 policy to mobilize the people by upholding a slogan to end the civil war and to achieve peace in accordance with the desire of the people as a tactic and launching a propaganda campaign that accused the AFPFL government of the main culprit of the civil war. I am pointing out this as it reflects the situation today. We can see the fabrication of history that internal armed conflicts have broken out due to the Tatmadaw. Some political parties and armed organizations, like the 55 policy of the BCP, have fabricated history by substituting the Tatmadaw in the place of the AFPFL government.
Moreover, there are concepts that armed conflicts are concerned not with the government that is responsible for all the affairs of the state but with the Tatmadaw and EAOs and the government is neutral and must act as a referee. EAOs are opposing the Union and successive governments. If one studies the history objectively, it can be seen that the Tatmadaw is protecting the Union and successive governments. I would like to say that it is dishonest to drive the current peace process based on ideologies and concepts of the 1950s. To use a popular phrase at that time, I would like to urge them not to sell dog meat by displaying a goat head. Based on its experience, the Tatmadaw is taking measures to prevent what should not happen from happening and to pave way for what should happen to happen. The Tatmadaw always upholds ‘Our Three Main National Causes’ as the national duty.
Secondly, I would like to point out that some organizations want to link the peace process with other processes. There is nothing more important than the interests of the nation or national interests in a country. In building a democratic system, the phrase ‘No one is above the law’ is the fundamental principle for the sustainability of the foundation of democracy. Similarly, it must be borne in mind that no one or no organization is above the national interests in State-building and Nation-building. It is obvious if one takes what is happening at present into consideration.
National interests of our country is non-disintegration, non-disintegration of national solidarity and perpetuation of sovereignty. To implement these causes, we are carrying out peace process. The peace process needs to steadfastly emphasize and reflect the national interests. If peace process is attached to other work process based on personal desire, political gains and interests of an organization, not only peace process but also other processes will not achieve success. Although the Myanmar saying which goes: “one stroke, two pieces” is a flowery word, I accept that it is necessary to have “one stroke for one piece” in the real life.
For the third point, “it is necessary to firmly stand on the exact and precise basic principles”. Peace processes are based on basic principles. It is the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA). I have given clarifications for many times how the NCA emerged, and what the NCA comprised. And, I explained that the NCA was titled with ceasefire agreement but the agreements and future tasks included in the NCA were wider than the definition of ceasefire with the aim how to build the future Union. Such kind of agreement signed by many organizations by taking adequate time for negotiation had never come out in the history of peace process in Myanmar. So, NCA is basic principles of peace process. We should not derail from such route. It is very dangerous that responsible persons themselves waver over the agreement as well as do not stand on it firmly. I would like to urge you all to “widely consider, firmly stand and vigorously do”.
A saying in the medical corps goes “prevention is better than treatment”. There is no drug to cure Covid-19 pandemic till today. How do our global people face the world’s pandemic without any drug for treatment? We all are facing it with prevention. We all are encountering it with having high immunity. The main duty of the Tatmadaw is to defend the State. The word of defence is very wide. It cannot be accepted that State defence means protecting the territory of the country and safeguarding of life and property of the people. It is necessary to take its meaning into consideration to safeguard National interests of the State and protect future of the State. It is necessary to build the unity of the country as immunity to have strengthening. We all should conscientiously expose the issues on disintegration of solidairity of the State and lessening of national immunity of the State. We should make concerted efforts for preventing these issues.
The Tatmadaw on its part is striving for ending the internal armed conflicts which might lessen unity of the State, national immunity and defence capability. The Tatmadaw has been making efforts for ending the armed conflicts in successive eras as well as will strive for such issue in the future.
To be able to successfully implement democracy and federalism, the Tatmadaw has adopted three policies for stability of the State, national unity and development of social economy while participating in the reform process of politics, administration and economy of the State. In so doing, it is necessary to effectively narrow the development gap between states and regions, the gap of social system between rural and urban areas and poor and wealthy gap which are actual needs of the country for ensuring unity and improvement of social life. Narrowing the internal gaps must lead to minimize the gaps between regional and ASEAN countries and our country. Everybody says our country is rich in sources including natural resources. It is right to some extent but not totally right. We are still weak in well-versed human resources qualified for effectively utilize already existed material resources.
For example, a data based on the census population of our country issued in 2014 showed 5.6 million of people in five groups aged between 5 to 21 years had not totally enrolled the schools. It means 5.6 million of 54 million population of our country had not totally attended the school with weakness in knowledge. When I study the education census of the State during the period of 22 years from 1997 to 2019, I found a total of 27 million of children attended basic education schools during the period. There are 22 million children till 2014.A total of 12 million among 27 million of children could reach the fifth standard In 2019 . More than a half of those students ended their learning in the primary education. Likewise, a total of 12 million of children learned education in observing the data during the 10-year period from 2000 to 2009. Just 6.4 million of students could reach the fifth standard of middle education. It is actual education situation of our State. The school age children in around 1997 to 2002 become the youths who have turned 18 years to cast vote in the election.
This is why efforts must be exerted to help promote the education of the entire people. I happened to learn that education means promoting the personality skills and way of thinking of a learner rather than directly applying the skills he has learned. World countries are categorized into developed, developing and underdeveloped ones based on education standards. That follows suit for humans as well. Job availability, appointment and assignment are different based on education and performance. To put it simply, we must go to school if we want to pursue education. After studying, we must take exams. These are the things we must do by ourselves. What parents and guardians can do is to enrol their children at school and provide necessities for their schooling and education. Knowing this natural phenomenon, we can change all our differences. This cannot be done through demand. Regarding this, I said at the fourth anniversary of NCA signing in October 2019, “No one else will help us build a federal democratic union. We ourselves will have to build the federal democratic system suitable to our country. All the national people and citizen must work together to do this. Instead of focusing on the only desire incompatible with our prevailing conditions, we should pay attention to all possibilities in order to facilitate the peace process.”
In our country, the multi-party democracy general election is only over two months away. Election is crucial and it is the process we must complete for the multi-party democracy we are practising in accord with the people’s wishes. At the third round of the Union Peace Conference-the 21st Century Panglong Conference held in July 2018, I emphasized the need for completing the peace process at the Union Peace Conference to be held in 2020 as we have the election in the same year. At the third anniversary of the NCA signing in October 2018, I reiterated that “Tatmadaw had vowed to complete the peace process by 2020. As it had vowed, eternal peace would be brought to the hands of the people as they aspire.” Designating 2019 as the year of peace, Tatmadaw made unilateral ceasefire for nine months from 21 December 2018 to 21 September 2019 by issuing ceasefire and eternal peace statements, and that had never been seen throughout the peace history of Myanmar. The extended ceasefire from 10 May 2020 to 31 August was also announced. This is because based on the experiences from the 2010 and 2015 elections, we are intentionally trying to ensure stability in conflict areas and protect the people against any pressure and fear from the armed groups when they cast their ballots. At the same time, we are trying to build a peaceful and stable country. But, those responsible failed to take it seriously. We all have responsibility to ensure a free and fair election, choose parliamentary candidates qualified for serving for the peace of the State and national development and ensure the emergence of a visionary government. Thus, all those in attendance will have to make efforts in their respective roles. I would like all the people not only to pay attention to the election but also to ensure a free and fair election.
In conclusion, I would say:
– We shall have to observe what is required and what causes hurdles in our peace process and make reform as quickly as possible.
– We shall have to serve national interests, not self-interests, realizing that nothing is as important as our peace process.
– We shall have to march towards the peace goal with a sense of oneness and the spirit of Myanmar.
– All respective regions shall have to try to make the multi-party democracy general election to be held soon free and fair without any subversive act.