August 19, 2016

When will Tamataw leave Myanmar politics?

Thiha Zaw
(Nay Pyi Taw)

Currently, domestic and international media are flooded with the result of Myanmar election, the prospect of peaceful transfer of power and the role of Tamataw in future political landscape in Myanmar. A lot of questions are asked about the possibility of the democratic control of armed forces, the time table for the departure of delegates of Tamataw from various legislatures. There are a lot of assumptions from home and abroad about these issues. Being a Myanmar citizen, I cannot help myself thinking and formulating the best solution that will benefit all citizens of our country.
Looking back into the history, every new political system has developed not because of divine creation but because the situation has demanded since the prevailing political system cannot provide the necessary wellbeing of the public. For example, the industrial revolution and free market economic system had brought so many innovations and development for mankind. Industrial revolution required cheap labour for mass production and free market system required colonies to exploit basic commodities at cheap price and profitable market for their finished products. That system has brought out the issues like exploitation of labour and social injustice which was an intolerable condition for philosophers and political scientists like Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels. Their work on Das Capital later evolved into new political system called communism which was very appealing for young nationalists under colonial rule which include politicians in Myanmar. But even before the fall of Berlin wall, many societies have lost favour for communism, and nowadays communism exist as just the name without any real essence even in countries like China, Viet Nam and Cuba.
Looking back to Myanmar history again, democracy has taken roots since independence but it has not flourished for long enough because of the fierce ideological and ethnic conflicts leading to the world’s longest running civil war. The geopolitical power struggle at the time of Myanmar independence was very turbulent among the communist east bloc and the west bloc. Inside the east bloc the competition between Maoist China and Soviet Russia was even stronger similar to the present day conflict between Sunny and Shite sects of Islam. The leaders of Myanmar had to use full diplomatic power to stay away from those conflicts in order to protect territory integrity and sovereignty as well as to uphold the democracy under the umbrella of 5 principles of peaceful and mutual existence. But the power struggle between the leaders caused by irreconcilable personal grudges led to the division between political and civilian societies and had finally brought down the fall of democracy in Myanmar. Neighboring countries like Thailand, Laos, Indonesia, Pakistan and Bengladesh have also fallen victim to the tsunami effect of power game among the giants leading to the replacement of civilian governments by military administrations in order to protect territory integrity and sovereignty.
It is only a matter of months before the second generation civilian government takes office in Myanmar. At this time there are a lot of worries at home and abroad about whether that government will be able to perform the nation building tasks without any interference from military. There are a lot of arguments and counter arguments about the amendment of 2008 constitution, the possibility of the departure of delegates of Tamataw from various legislatures, democratic control of armed forces, the provision for the role of president as commander-in-chief of armed forces.
As a matter of fact, there should not be such an intense argument if everybody focus on the common interest of the wellbeing all Myanmar citizens. The public has casted the vote with the hope of providing political freedom, stability and peace, improvement of economy and personal income by the next government. The provision of political freedom is evident from free and fair election on November 8 without any violence or boycotts which were commonly seen in many elections in countries in democratic transition. Press freedom is evident if someone has just walked in front of the roadside bookstalls. Even before the next government takes office, every Myanmar citizen can enjoy freedom of expression in accordance with the law without endangering national security and sovereignty.
Based on the historical background, geopolitical position and longstanding armed conflict, the civilian government cannot work alone on the security matters. The close cooperation between civilian and military institutions is essential to the stability of the state. The same principle applies to the ethnic armed organizations. Enduring peace can only prevail when they follow the true democratic practices and leave behind the old practices of armed struggle. Provided that the enduring peace and stability is achieved after close cooperation    between civilian and military institutions and ethnic armed organizations, the next government will only need to focus their work on the improvement of socioeconomic conditions of the public.
Once the enduring peace process has been set up and the decent livelihood of the public in the whole country in all states and regions has been achieved, there will no longer be questions and arguments about the role of the delegates of Tamataw in various legislatures, control of the defence, internal security and border affairs ministry by the commander-in-chief and democratic control of armed forces. When will that time come would be a multimillion dollar question? Once I met some influencial people like Tom Malinosky, Assistant Secretary of State and General Crutchfields, Deputy Commander of Pacific Command of the United States in our National Defence College and asked them about their opinions for the possible time frame for the departure of the Tamataw from the politics. They answered that the exact time table is just the internal matter and it is for all the people in Myanmar to formulate and decide. They added that theoretically the sooner the better. So there is quite clear that the matter is not that straight forward as many media has wanted to know so urgently?
The best solution is the next government should focus on the sectors which they can control with absolute majority within framework of 2008 constitution like education, health, social and economic sectors since there are so many opportunities to reap and so many challenges to overcome. There are many priority tasks like improvement of health care and education system to produce healthy, educated and skilled labour force, creating the business friendly environment for foreign direct investment for job creation, reform of the whole agricultural supply chain to send finished Myanmar agricultural product to the global market, revitalizing Myanmar SME and building the industrialized nation for the Myanmar products to enter the global supply chain, improvement of banking, stock exchange and other financial institutions in line with the international practice, transforming the government model from resource revenue dependent to tax dependent model by mobilizing the public to follow the responsible tax culture, fighting corruption, improvement of bureaucratic efficiency and judicial reform. The opportunities and challenges in these sectors can keep the next government very busy over the next 5 years. So instead of wasting their precious time and energy arguing over the 2008 constitution, the elected delegates should focus on these priority tasks. Once succeeded, the impact of these Nation Building tasks can pave the way for ultimate objective of full-fledged democracy without any nonelected members being seen in the various legislatures.
As mentioned above, it is very difficult for the most learned scholars, think tanks and seasoned politicians to define the exact time table for the departure of Tamataw from the Myanmar political landscape. We have to formulate another way in terms of numbers. According to the study from Freedom House of Washington DC, there is a direct correlation between the enduring democracy and the economic status of the country based on the annual per capita income. They define the threshold as annual per capita income of US$ 4,000. Once a society has crossed that threshold, the possibility of democratic backsliding is very rare. So the question is “Should we set up a society with annual per capita income level of US$ 4,000 as an intermediate objective before we go for full democratization?”
Our annual per capita income level is US$ 1,269 at present. If the successive democratic government can steer the economy to double the annual per capita income level every 5 years, it will be US$ 2,500 in 2020 and US$ 5,000 in 2025. According to this estimate, the term between 2025 and 2030 would be ripe for full democratization. If a party can lead that path, I am sure the people will cast the vote for them successively every 5 years and the ultimate objective of the Myanmar people will arrive in time. According to the democratic principle, there can be different opinions about the political roadmap for Myanmar in the coming decade. Anyhow this formula is likely to be the most pragmatic and best formula for our country.


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