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Last Updated: Jul 28, 2016 URL: Print Guide Email Alerts

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Federalism in Burma/Myanmar

The issues of federalism have been a major source of debate for decades in the Burmese context.  The Panglong Agreement which was signed by Burmese and several ethnic minority leaders on the 12 February 1947, on the verge of independence, provided the guiding principle of forming a union based on "unity in diversity" or a form of federal union.  However, post-independence Burma did not become a federal union despite the urgent need for this.

Failure to establish a federal union based on equality has resulted in civil war. The ethnic insurgency movements emerged as a result of the government’s failure to deal with the demand for federalism peacefully. Many ethnic groups have begun their armed struggle as early as 1947 for they saw a lack of equality in the formation of the union. The absence of a functional relation between the state and broader society in which non-Burman ethnic population represent a significant number, has made the situation even more complex.

Despite the fact that Burma has a highly centralized unitary government system for the past six decades, the issue of federalism remains a major source of debate and conflict. Many, ethnic leaders and scholars alike, argue that federalism is the only viable solution to Burma’s political crisis, including six long decades of civil war. Federalism has been accepted by ethnic minority groups because it seeks to guarantee political equality for all nationalities, promotes the right of self-determination for all member states of the Union, and democratic rights for all citizens.

As peace talks between the reformist government led by President Thein Sein and armed ethnic organisations have gained momentum, the issues of federalism have re- emerged as a new discourse. The basic problem facing the country to bring about genuine unity among different ethnic groups, including the ethnic Burman group, remains unchanged.  Federalism appears to offer a way out of Burma’s political crisis which needs a political system wherein diverse peoples feel free and equal, able to govern themselves in their own areas, protect and preserve their languages, cultures and traditions, while at the same time give their political loyalty to the nation state.


Further Introductory Reading

Fitzpatrick, Sarah and King, Van Patrick. "After 65 Years of Ethnic Violence, Calls for Federalism in Burma Grow Louder." Huffington PostJune 14, 2013.
Wansai, Sai. "Federalism in Burma: 8 States with Decentralisation Way to Go." Shan Herald, October 30, 2012.
Williams, David C. & Sakhong, Lian H. Designing Federalism in BurmaPeaceful Co-Existence: Towards a Federal Union of Burma. Chiang Mai: UNLD Press, 2005.
About: "This volume is designed to serve as a concise introduction to certain constitutional ideas that may be relevant to Burma. Burma has before it a difficult balancing act: it must find enough unity to stay together as one country, and it must also find the strength and confidence to allow its various states and cultures to govern themselves in their own way " [Author]

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by Lebanon Common Space Initiative - Last Updated Jul 28, 2016
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