Academic: Rebels can draft a constitution
After all is said and done, the only thing that may endure in the memory of the participants of the three-day State Constitutions Seminar, 24-26 November, might well be the positive response of one of the professors to a question: whether rebels in opposition to an established authority could fashion a constitution at all, according to a source who took part in the meeting.
"Rebels too can draft a nation's charter", declared Dr David Williams, Professor of Law, Indiana University, in reply to query from Pa-O leader Hkun Okker. "The US Constitution itself was drawn up by 72 rebels from the 13 Colonies in 1787."
The lecturer received an unexpected spontaneous applause from the 40 plus participants that included Padoh-Ba Thin Sein, Karen National Union; Dr Chao Tzang Yawnghwe, National Reconciliation Program; Sao Sengsuk, Chairman, Shan State Constitution Drafting Commission and Thein Oo of Burma Lawyers Council, among others.
The scene was reminiscent to many of the first seminar, 20-25 August 2001, when Chao Tzang admonished the gathering: "The five decade long conflict in Burma has been the result of misconceptions of federalism. While some Burman leaders misinterpret it as secession, some non-Burman leaders or the other hand, have mistaken it as submission to Burman enslavement.
"In a genuine federation, not one level of government, (central, state and local), dominates the other two. If this idea continues to be unacceptable to us, we may as well keep on fighting each other until no one remains alive."
It also brought to mind the scene at the second seminar, 29 October - 6 November 2002, when Professor Yogendra Yadev, Centre for the Study of Developing Societies, New Delhi, likened India's federalism to "a salad bowl", where each part that forms the whole remains as it was before while the whole becomes better then each of its parts, in contrast to the US's "melting pot", where all parts merge to form a new entity.
Both received a full ovation by their listeners.
Chao Tzang this time went one better. "In a genuine federation, the central government is not the boss," he reminded the meeting. "All the three levels of government associate with one another on the basis of 2R's and 2C's: Recognition, Respect, Consultation and Cooperation."
The seminar, attended by 3 from each of the drafting committees and study groups, namely:
Chin State Constitution Drafting Committee
Kachin State Constitution Drafting Committee
Karen State Constitution Drafting Committee
Karenni State Constitution Drafting Committee
Mon State Constitution Drafting Committee
Rakhine State Constitution Drafting Committee
Shan State State Constitution Drafting Commission
Burman State Constitution Drafting Study Group
Federal State Constitution Drafting Committee
discussed the following subjects, among others:
Division of power among local, state and central governments
Making Decentralization a reality, including the creation of an independent tax base
Establishing local governments
L >> R
Col Htoo Htoo Lay, Chao Tzang Yawnghwe, Khun Mankob Ban, Padoh Ba Thin Sein, Lian Hmung Sakhong
Commenting on the proceedings of the seminar, Padoh Ba Thin Sein contended, "We are not trying to destroy the union. On the contrary, we are doing our best to consolidate it ... Only the military rulers equates federalism with secession, turning a blind eye to the world's federal states, that are flourishing and thriving."
The following countries are generally regarded as successful federal states: Argentina, Austria, Australia, Brazil, Germany and the United States of America that are essentially "mono-national" and Belgium, Canada, India and Spain that are basically "multi-national."
"Our problem therefore is that of constitutional indigestion right from Day One," he added.
Markoban, MP from Shan State's Faikhun (Pekhon), concurred: "Our main issue is the constitutional crisis. As long as the rest of Burma is allowed to be run by the government of Burma proper (Pyima), the problem will refuse to go away."
Practical relations between the states and the central government should be the topic of discussion in future seminars, he said.
To date, only five out of nine groups, have drawn up their proposed drafts: Chin, Karen, Karenni, Mon and Federal.
State draft constitutions to date (November 2003)
|No.||State||DraftingCommittee formed||Draft||Special feature|
|1.||Chin||1998||4th draft (2003)||Powers allocated to the central government|
|3.||Karen||2000||1st draft (2003)||Right to bear arms|
|4.||Karenni||1991||Ratified/ operative (2001)||Independent nation's charter, concedes need for review|
|5.||Mon||2002||1st draft (2003)||Autonomous homelands for non-Mons|
|7.||Shan||2000||Still at it||Federal structure|
|9.||Federal||1991||4th draft (1996)||Federal Structure|
Points of interest
* How Kachins are going to live with 'their Shans" in the same state.
** How the Rakhines are going to live with "Rohingyas" in the same state.
*** A Burman state concept is still a bitter pill to swallow, acknowledge members