Myanmar: Whither the National Convention?



Before the National Convention (NC) was reconvened on 17 May, the NLD leadership indicated that the party would be willing to participate under the following conditions: the original 'six objectives' and the '104 points' of principles adopted by the NC before its recess in 1996 be reconsidered; all the NLD offices be allowed to reopen; and the General Secretary Daw Aung San Suu Kyi as well as Vice-Chairman U Tin Oo be released. The authorities rebuffed this overture and the NLD announced on 14 May that it had decided to stay away from the NC. The government stated that though the NLD failed to apply for registration the authorities had gone out of their way to try and meet the party's 'demands to the most possible degree'. It also pointed out that Suu Kyi and U Tin Oo were not present in the NLD delegation to the previous NC and were not released due to concerns regarding security and stability in relation to the ongoing NC.

Some ethnic-based parties and ceasefire groups also indicated that they would prefer more 'democratic' procedures in the selection of participants, during deliberations and the adoption of detailed constitutional principles; but nevertheless they decided to participate. On the other hand, NLD's ally, the Shan National League for Democracy (SNLD that won the second largest number of seats in the 1990 election), and the United Nationalities Alliance (UNA, a grouping constituting elected ethnic representatives whose parties were deregistered) also boycotted the NC. The Shan State Kokang Democratic Party was also not represented

Meanwhile, the United Nations (UN) Secretary General, the US, EU and many Western countries as well as many regional states called for an 'all inclusive' and 'meaningful' participation in the NC.

When the NC was opened on schedule with much fanfare, 1,076 out of the 1,088 'listed' delegates were present. Representatives of the US and Western powers were absent in the ranks of the diplomatic corps in attendance. The local press and (local) representatives of foreign news agencies were invited though no foreigners were permitted to cover the event.

No official information on the composition of the delegates who were classified into eight groupings as in the previous NC was available, but the following table gives the breakdown of the invited list based on collation of public information.






Political parties

Elected representatives

National races


Intellectuals & Intelligentsia


Service personnel

(from central organs of state & ministries including military)

Invited delegates

(28 ceasefire groups, community leaders, selected individuals)












] 44?









As evident from the table, the delegates from the seven political parties which are attending comprised only 4 per cent of the invited list and, more significantly, only two parties (the National Unity Party that won 10 seats and the Mro or Khami National Solidarity Organization that won one seat) and 11 independents (6 of whom are ex-NLD dissidents) are represented in the group reserved for elected representatives (who won the 1990 elections). Of the 633 delegates from the 'national races', 424 are from 16 non-Bamar (or Burman) ethnic groups and it is highly likely that a large majority of the 105-strong 'invited' delegates are from the ceasefire groups.

In the opening speech, the National Convention Convening Committee (NCCC) Chairman, Secretary 2 of the junta, stated that the current NC was a continuation of the work done in the last exercise. He urged the delegates to 'coordinate, discuss and forward suggestions in line with the procedures prescribed by the [NCCC} & and in accordance with the six objectives' of the NC. In his address the Information Minister, who was the NCCC Secretary, delineated the ground rules which included: loyalty to the state; 'not to accept any other country's patronage'; 'to follow instructions given by chairman of the group and Panel of Chairmen'; to keep 'secret' news of the NC; to settle disagreements through 'adjustments' by the National Convention Convening Work Committee (NCCWC); to submit all proposals and suggestions beforehand for confirmation and to ensure that they are 'in the frame of the six objectives' of the NC; only confirmed papers 'are to be read out by the one whose name has been already enlisted'; not to deviate from the text in the confirmed papers; to discuss only those 'topics in line with the proposal paper sent in advance'; 'not to distribute documents & not permitted' by the NCCWC; 'not to talk about the documents or publish them outside'; and 'not to bring arms and ammunition into the hostels and meeting hall' (this probably refers to the Wa who usually are armed). Moreover, during meetings 'delegates are not allowed to walk out individually or in group'. All these indicate tight control by the authorities over the proceedings.

Given the composition of the delegates that overwhelmingly favour the non-Bamar ethnic groups and individuals who are augmented by functional groups chosen by the authorities concerned, it appears that the former are likely to be crucial players in this game, either as spoilers or promoters of the government's line. After four weeks in the isolated encampment replete with privileged amenities and recreational provisions, earlier speculation of a walkout by some disenchanted ethnic delegates had not materialized. It is highly likely that most had given in to the government's coaxing to conform and acquiesce bolstered by financial incentives and assured continuation of their enhanced role under the new constitution. It is highly probable that the junta will be able to guide the NC towards a successful conclusion by this year's end and present it as a fait accompli to its detractors.

WATCHPOINT: The role of ethnic groups as key players and how the NLD will react to the progress of the proceedings will be of interest in the months to come. We can expect an enhanced government public relations exercise to discredit the opposition and to win the endorsement of the major regional powers and ASEAN for the NC's outcome.


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