A Myanmar roadmap: Charting the path to federal democracy
More than one year after the Myanmar military staged an attempted coup d'état, democracy defenders both inside and outside of Myanmar remain committed to restoring legitimately elected leaders and returning the country to the path to federalism. In partnership with the National Unity Government (NUG) and the Myanmar Campaign Network (MCN), International IDEA co-hosted the “Myanmar Roadmap to Federal Democracy Forum” in Canberra on 29 September 2022, featuring a panel discussion that provided critical insights into the constitutional illegitimacy of the military junta’s regime, political challenges ahead and the opportunities for federal democracy.
Setting the scene since the events of 1 February 2021, Tun Aung Shwe, the NUG Representative to Australia, reiterated the commitment of Myanmar’s democratic movement, highlighting that the country’s ethnic minority groups are united in their struggle to establish a free and democratic federal system of governance. Speaking positively of the resistance movement, he pointed to the parallel systems of healthcare, judiciary and other public services that the NUG is operating outside of the military’s rule.
Pointing to the military’s ongoing brutality, he said that the regime’s actions have unified previously disparate groups, telling the audience, “The social cohesion landscape is changing in the right direction,” and noted that different views, such as on the management of natural resources, are being collaboratively discussed.
Moving to the panel discussion, International IDEA’s Head of Myanmar Programme, Marcus Brand, NUG Union Minister of Federal Affairs Lian Hmung Sakhong and NUG Union Minister of Justice Thein Oo spoke about the unconstitutionality of the coup itself, what the democracy movement needs from the international community, and how the NUG is administering a government from exile.
Summarizing the military’s public justifications for the coup, Marcus Brand said it was their “own narrative … that what they were doing was the implementation of a state of emergency provision of the 2008 Constitution.”
“But it is very important to understand that even the 2008 Constitution, which had originally been drafted by the military … that constitution did not give the military a carte blanche to take over at will. That is how the military has been presenting this, but the one feature that they missed when they put together the 2008 Constitution was that they did not expect that there would be an elected president in place who would refuse to sign on to a state of emergency and hand over power to the military,” he said, adding that they decided to ‘jump over that’ by detaining senior elected members of parliament.
Speaking to the current situation in Myanmar, Lian Hmung Sakhong described “brutal crackdowns” on peaceful protests, and said the resistance movement, which comprises of multiple groups, have come together in pursuit of the Federal Democracy Charter (FDC).
“The Charter has five guiding principles and 64 federal principles – this is what ethnic groups are proposing and demanding. We agreed to these [FDC] principles in three weeks—that is the difference between us and the military. We the people are united and willing to establish our country base on those principles,” he said.
Acknowledging the need for meaningful transitional justice, Thein Oo said the NUG’s plan includes a focus on training new legal practitioners and ensuring the rule of law is evenly applied.
“Our new justice system will be built within a federal system that ensures the rule of law applies to everyone, no matter who they are or where they live,” he said, adding that 35 townships are living in the NUG administrative system.
Further, he called on the international community to fully, and officially, recognize the NUG.
“One of our strategies for this year is to get international recognition as the government of Myanmar. The NUG needs to be able to speak formally within the UN system and have access to other governments,” he said.
Digging into the specifics of the Federal Democracy Charter, Marcus Brand explained it is not to be seen as an “interim constitution” at this point.
“I see it more as a framework than a legal, enforceable interim constitution. That is because of the fluidity of building this democratic coalition—it needs principles and guidance where hard, legally enforceable rules might be counterproductive. It rejects the validity of the 2008 Constitution, but it does not seek to fully replace it yet, because the situation on the ground is very much in flux…it is very diverse.”
“Instead, it clearly lays down the basic principles and structure for the new federal system that will be built. We are looking at a ‘bottom-up’ system that sees the constituent units—the member states and territories, and the people living in them, as the original owners of sovereignty. There is a commitment to self-determination, but not just defined in ethnic terms but in more in terms of democratic citizenship,” he said.
Click here to learn more about International IDEA’s Myanmar programme.
Click here to view IDEA’s analysis of the Federal Democracy Charter.