Several leading political stakeholders in Burma reacted negatively to President Thein Sein’s monthly radio address on Wednesday—not to the president’s call for vigilance in the face of terrorism, but to his indication that signing a nationwide ceasefire agreement and initiating a political dialogue process are necessary pre-conditions to holding next year’s general election.
“Only if we can sign a nationwide ceasefire agreement can we begin the political dialogue which will lead the political future of our country,” Thein Sein said in his address to the nation, which was broadcast across Burma by radio. “I want you to note that we can only ensure political stability, the holding of the 2015 elections, and a subsequent smooth political transition only if this [political dialogue] process is commenced.”
The government has been pushing Burma’s armed ethnic groups to sign a nationwide ceasefire, but negotiations between the two sides have been bogged down for months and many analysts doubt an agreement will be reached any time soon.
In response to the president’s announcement, Kachin State Democracy Party Chairman Dr. Tu Ja told DVB that the 2015 elections should not be postponed under any circumstances.
“Next year’s elections cannot be postponed. It’s a five-year term, so it must last five years,” he said. “Otherwise, the public will get the wrong impression. They may think the government wants to maintain its grip on power. Even if we are unable to reach an agreement on a nationwide ceasefire, this should not affect the general election. It should still go ahead.”
Rangoon MP Dr. Nyo Nyo Thin, an upper house lawmaker representing the National Democratic Force, responded to the president’s speech by saying that Thein Sein’s proposed course of action is unconstitutional.
“The election must be held by December 2015 at the latest, according to the constitution,” she said. “But now the president is apparently suggesting that the ceasefire agreement is related to the constitutionally-mandated elections. This is not the case.”
Dr. Salai Lian Sakhong, a Chin leader and senior negotiator for the NCCT—the team of armed ethnic group leaders that has been negotiating with the government on behalf Burma’s armed ethnic groups—said the delay in signing a ceasefire agreement is essentially due to intransigence on the part of the government.
“We didn’t refuse to discuss even a single point on the agenda proposed by the government proposed,” he said. “However, the government delegation blocked the debate on items that we raised. To resolve the impasse, we need the government to show goodwill. This is the first key point.”
He continued: “Secondly, both sides already agreed to amalgamate our security forces. But when we met in September the government proposed to re-visit this issue during the political dialogue phase. This in itself is a barrier to progress—not just in terms of political dialogue, but it’s also a barrier to the nationwide ceasefire agreement. We are concerned that the government expects us to lay down our arms before we are given any political guarantees. The president and the commander-in-chief of the army should seriously consider whether they wish to continue pursuing this approach. That’s what I think.”