In what could usher in a significant moment in the country’s history, Myanmar is preparing for a Union Conference to be held shortly. On 24 April it was announced that the conference would take place within the next two months. The conference, also dubbed ‘The 21st Century Panglong (21CPC)’ is anticipated to be all-inclusive amongst Ethnic Armed Organisations (EAOs) as long as certain factors are met. Ironically, this all-inclusive conference will exclude civil society actors and political parties that did not win seats in the 2015 elections. The announcement of the conference was welcomed by all sides including the eight Armed Ethnic Organisations that signed the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA) on 15 October 2015 and those that either refused to sign it or were not invited. State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi was quick to point out that the Conference would be concurrent with the NCA and did not at this moment seek to replace it.
While comparisons to Panglong are inevitable with the 1947 Panglong meeting shaping the discourse of ethnic politics over the last sixty years, it is essential that a new thinking evolves to take into account the current situation. While it is important to remember that the Panglong Agreement was an essential foundation in what was hoped to be a genuine union the romanticised notion of Panglong should not be allowed to take over present realities facing the country. An essential difference between the two Panglongs is that the 1947 Panglong was a conference between equal, separate and distinct political entities – British Burma, Federated Shan States, Kachin Hills and Chin Hills – to agree to cooperate to form a new nation and seek independence from Britain, while the proposed 21CPC is a unilateral proposal by the central government to permanently end the 7-decades of internal conflict. The 1947 Conference can be described as a state-to-state conference, while the 21 CPC is a state-to-individual non-state ethnic armed organisation conference.
Aung San Suu Kyi seems intent on inheriting her father’s legacy but who actually controls the process and the true role ethnic actors will be allowed to play needs further consideration.
My latest EBO background paper is available here.