Ahead of Coup Anniversary, Myanmar Resistance Groups Release Political Roadmap

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Ahead of Coup Anniversary, Myanmar Resistance Groups Release Political Roadmap

The National Unity Government and three allies have released the most detailed plan yet for what would follow the collapse of the military regime.

Ahead of Coup Anniversary, Myanmar Resistance Groups Release Political Roadmap

Leading members of Myanmar’s opposition National Unity Government take part in an online cabinet meeting on January 30, 2024.

Credit: Facebook/National Unity Government of Myanmar

On the eve of the third anniversary of the 2021 coup, Myanmar’s opposition National Unity Government (NUG) has reaffirmed its intention to defeat the country’s military dictatorship and build a “new federal democratic union” on its ashes.

The NUG, which is spearheading the resistance to military rule, released a joint position statement today along with three allied ethnic armed groups: the Chin National Front, Karen National Union, and Karenni National Progressive Party. In the statement, the four groups offered the most detailed outline yet of how they plan to haul down the edifice of military rule and replace it with a more democratic and inclusive Myanmar.

“In order to preserve and promote the unique characters and identities of diverse ethnic communities that form our nation, we envision the establishment of a federal democratic union that upholds the principles of democracy, national equality and self-determination in its constituent states,” read the statement.

The NUG and its allies then lay out six political objectives: to reverse the coup and “terminate the involvement of the armed forces in politics”; to place the military under the control of a democratically elected civilian government; to abrogate the military-drafted 2008 Constitution and replace it with “a new constitution that embodies federalism and democratic values”; to establish a federal democratic union in accordance with this constitution; and to “institute a system of transitional justice in order to address and remedy the injustices inflicted upon innocent parties throughout the conflict.”

While most of these goals have been stated previously, the statement offers the most detailed political roadmap yet seen for how to bring them about. Interestingly, it leaves open the possibility of negotiations with the military, but only “subject to their unconditional acceptance of the six political objectives” – which is to say, the institution’s permanent political neutralization. Once the military has been removed from power, the statement envisions the creation of a Transitional National Unity Government and similar bodies at the state and regional level followed by the “convention of a nationwide political conference involving all interested parties to deliberate on the establishment of a federal democratic union.” From there, it envisions the drafting of a new federal constitution and the creation of a new federal system on this basis.

The statement from the four groups finished by pledging “to persist in our revolutionary endeavors, maintaining unwavering cooperation and collaboration with our allied revolutionary forces.”

The statement is clearly intended to buoy up resistance forces on the third anniversary of the coup, which arrives at a time of significant gains for anti-junta forces in all four quadrants of the compass. Since late October, the Three Brotherhood Alliance – consisting of the Arakan Army (AA), the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA), and the Ta’ang National Liberation Army – has overrun most of the military positions in northern Shan State, gaining access to important trade routes with China. The Alliance’s Operation 1027 offensive, as it has been dubbed, culminated earlier this month with the MNDAA’s recapture of the Kokang Self-Administered Zone, nearly 15 years after it was driven out by the Myanmar military.

Similar gains have also taken place in the west of the country, where the AA has managed to take significant ground in Rakhine State, culminating in the capture of Paletwa township on the Indian border on January 15. The joint policy statement signifies that the resistance has now come far enough in its war against the military that it can start talking realistically about what might follow its victory.

The other likely purpose is to address growing concerns, voiced by some observers outside Myanmar, that the collapse of the military will simply lead to state collapse and a new cycle of conflict. Again, the fact that the NUG and its allies even have to address this once-distant concern is a testament to its recent successes.

That said, a lot of the statement’s goals are very much a case of easier said than done. If the military is defeated by force of arms, something that would be historically unprecedented in Myanmar’s post-independence history, it will face the challenge of creating a genuinely democratic state over the full span of Myanmar’s modern territory, which has never been under the sovereignty of any single government.

In this regard, it is perhaps notable that the NUG’s joint policy statement was not signed by many of the country’s major ethnic resistance groups. None of the members of the Three Brotherhood Alliance signed, for instance, nor did the Kachin Independence Organization.

This does not necessarily reflect unbridgeable differences between these groups and the NUG, let alone hostility, but it does suggest that building a federal and democratic Myanmar will be a generational project – one that will inevitably involve disagreements within and between ethnic armed organizations and political factions about the exact way to structure and devolve power. It will also involve the creation and inculcation of a new multi-ethnic national identity, something that cannot be expected to be achieved without some friction and opposition from Burmese ultra-nationalists.

That said, in any such undertaking, you need to have a plan, and the NUG roadmap shows the world that it has thought through the challenges that would attend the collapse of the armed forces, even if its future actions will likely be affected by the political and conflict dynamics outside its direct control.