Shan New Year heralds year of peace

Chinese astrologers have predicted that 2015 will be a year for peace and harmony, according to ethnic Chinese visitors to the all Shan State Shan New Year festival in Taunggyi, the state capital.

Sao Aung Myat of Pwela, Shan State Chief Minister, opening Shan New Year Festival, 18 November 2014. (Photo: SHAN)

“2015 is the Year of the Goat or Sheep,” said a respectable source who asks anonymity. “It is the 8th sign of the zodiac. For Chinese, #8 is a lucky sign for all those born under the 12 signs. It is also a symbol for peace and harmony.”

At least appears to agree with the source. “Processes,” it says,” that have been unfolding and spreading chaos for the past few tears are finally wrapping up; both political and economic situations in the world are starting to stabilize. The crises that have been tormenting many countries for the past several years are finally promising to be over.”

The said Chinese predictions coincide with the words of the Restoration Council of Shan State/Shan State Army (RCSS/SSA) spokesman Col Sai La to Myanmar Times, 16 November 2014. “The New Year hope is for peace. Only peace can solve the political problems we are facing now.”

 The RCSS/SSA is one of the 14 major ethnic armed organizations (EAOs) that have signed preliminary ceasefire with the government.

16 of the EAOs, after forming a joint negotiation team, dubbed the Nationwide Ceasefire Coordination Team (NCCT), since 4 November 2013, have been parleying with Naypyitaw’s Union Peacemaking Work Committee (UPWC). So far the two sides have been stuck in the 4th draft of the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA) with the last 18 key points that are still under critical review.

Both sides are due to meet informally next week before the formal meeting which is expected to be held early next month.

The Shan New Year 2109 falls on the First Day of the First Lunar Month (Nadddaw for Burmese and 11th Month for Chinese) which is tomorrow, Saturday, 22 November for this year.

The festival in Taunggyi, 18-24 November, is participated by Shans, who call themselves Tai, from Thailand, Laos, Vietnam and India.

According to (2000), Tai-Thai-Lao is the 13th most widely spoken language in the world (90 million) and 6th most widely spoken in Asia, after Chinese, Hindi, Bengali, Malay and Japanese.

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Happy Shan New year!

Tomorrow, Saturday, 22 November 2014, also happens to be the First Day of the First Lunar Month Year 2109, of the Shans.

As Shans, let alone non-Shans, know very little about their own New Year, we are reproducing here excerpts from the paper written by Monthip Sirithaikhongchuen, Shan scholar who lives in Thailand, in 2008. Our sincere thanks to Shan Cultural Association (UK) for permission to reprint it-Editor

Tai Name of the Year and Tai New Year

Monthip Sirithaikhongchuen (Mahamoong, Muang Zae)

So far, we do not yet know exactly, indeed we know very little about the political and social circumstances in which the Tai family group began to use a calendar that would result in the celebration of this New Year Day. So, instead of repeating legend as history, I shall bring your attention to the astrological calculation that helps us arrive at this New Year Day.

In so doing, I shall venture to suggest that this particular calendar was earlier used by all branches of the Tai ethno family groups, for instance, Thai, Lao, Tai-khun, Lue, Tai Dam and Shan. Today, we see members of the Tai ethno family groups celebrating also a few other new year days: some celebrate Songkran in April which has become common to nearly all South and South-east Asians; and others join the celebration of the First of January. The Songkran and the Gregorian New Year obviously come from India and the West respectively. Some branch of the Tai family celebrates even the Chinese New Year.

In the Tai ethno family group there was a custom of using the name of the star groups in calculating the years, months and days and time for everyday life. This calendar is used to tell the day and date in everyday life. For example, karpsun year (Year of Monkey), lupkai month (Month of Pig) hoonghao day (Day of Rooster). We can say that people used ming to tell the year, month, day and date in everyday life. This was very important in the agriculturally orientated life. Up to this day the Tai race from the North and North-East of Thailand, Tai Yai, Khuen, Lue, Tai Nua, Ahom Tai (In Assam of India) , Laos, Tai Lum, Tai Leng and Tai Khao (In Vietnam) still use this calendar system. Only the Central Thais and the Southern Thais no longer using it. Instead, they use the Khmer calendar system.

Here we need to understand is, in astrology that uses the lunar month and star groups in the astral world the names are taken from animals in our world. This concept is now popular also to the Tibetan and Chinese. All the animals and the star groups are assigned to match each other symbolically and use indirectly.

Names of the Years
There are twelve son years or rather child year in a year cycle; and each with a name. They are:

1. Jai known as the Year of the Rat
2. Pao Year of the Ox,
3. Yee Year of the Tiger
4. Mao Year of the Rabbit or Cat,
5. Si Year of Naga/ Big Snake
6. Sai Year of Snake
7. Si Nga Year of the Horse
8. Med/Mod Year of the Goat
9. San Year of the Monkey
10. Hao Year of theCock
11. Sed/ Med Year of the Dog and
12. Kai Year of the Pig/ Elephant.

And there are other 10 Mother years each with a name. They are:
1. Karp
2. Lup
3. Hai
4. Muang
5. Puek
6. Kud
7. Koat
8. Hoong
9. Tao and
10. Ka.

When the Mother Years are rotationally combined with the Son Years until the last one from each set meets, which is ka and kai, we get a sixty-year cycle. It begins, for example, 1.Karp Jai with the first mother year of karp combining with the first son year of jai. 2. Lup Pao where the second mother year of lup is assigned to the second son year pao and so on. When both sets of year run out at the same time, we complete one cycle of 60 years; and we then start again at year one of Karp Jai,
meaning we begin a new cycle. In fact, not just year, but also the months and also the days are calculated in this sixty-cycle.

In the past, this sixty-year-cycle of Mother-Year and Son-Year system, was used by the Tai people to calculate the calendar era, record events and chronicles and also to give names to children.

In giving names, for example, the name Ai Noan is given to a boy who is born on the fourth day (Wednesday) or Hai Med (Goat day), the third waning day of Kod Yee month (Tiger month or the third lunar month), in the year of Kar Med (Year of the Goat), Culasakkaraja Era 1364. It will be understood immediately by a Tai who is well versed in this calendar that on the third waning day of the third Lunar month ( Lern Jeing in Tai or Duan Ai in Thai) of the year 1367, Ai Noan will be three years old.

How did the year names come into existence? Astrological experts still have different views as to how the year names were given according to constellations. Some said the names were given since the ancient civilization times of the Egyptians and the Persians. Some said it was part of the ancient Indian culture, but some who studied ancient Chinese culture said it was Chinese art and later spread throughout Asia and South-East Asia . Still, some argued that after studying the 12 year names there are no Chinese words in the names such as…..Jai, Pao,Yee, Mao, Si, Sai, Si Nga, Med, Sun, Hao, Sed, and Kai. Although the year name system was first, found in Chinese history its origin may not have been Chinese. So, the system was not invented by the Chinese.

According to some, the Chinese only began using the year-name system during the Western Han Dynasty 220-20 BC. It could be that the Chinese adopted this system from a certain race, who migrated into China at that time. Some historians have found in the history of Sung-Nu tribe that the method of calculating time by using Year name system of Mother Year- Son Year came from the Pai Ti custom. These tribesmen were nomads, herding animals in the plains. The Year name(nakkhatta) such as Jai, Pao, Yee were from the Pai Ti language. According to some historians, Hsu Han Sae, the leader of Sung-Nu who lived near the land of the Pai Yee, lost a battle to his brother. He fled to live with the ruler of the Western Han. He brought the system of the year name with him and the knowledge spread throughout China . From then, the Chinese have been using this system.

However, after several generations the Chinese changed the Pai Ti names into Chinese. The ten names of Ton Fah ( Mother Year) are Jae, Hii, Ping , Ting, Oo, Ji, Gerng, Sin, Yen and Gui (10) . The twelve names of Ging Lin (Son Year) are Jue, Jau, In, Mao, Choen, Sue, Oo, Woei, Sern, Yau, Si and Hai (12). When the 10 Mother- Years and the 12 Son-Years are combined the result is the sixty-year cycle. The Chinese call the sixty-year cycle Liu Sue Jay Jue.

At present the Pai Ti constellation year name system is not only used by all Tai ethno family groups, but also by Chinese, Khmer, Vietnamese and Indians. The names have also been changed to local languages. The Chinese call the Year name system Ging Lin (Sue Eua Ging Lin) and The Indians call the twelve constellation year name system (Dva-dasa rasi.) Although some academics believe this year name culture came from Si Han (Western Han) before it spread throughout Asia, they do not agree that it was invented by the Chinese. Actually, they insist, the Chinese “borrowed” it from Pai Ti. I also believe that The Tai people also borrowed it from Pai Ti who invented this system first and that the Pai Ti should be highly honored. But of all the people who use this Pai Ti year name system only the Tai people are still using it in everyday life up to this day. Some even suggest putting the Pai Ti into the Pai Yue group. (Yue or Yee One hundred Race group). Here is it possible to pose a question: were Pai Ti the ancestors of the Tai race? As I have no answer myself, I would like to leave it some learned researchers.

Tai New Year and Year name Basis
Of those who are using the Pai Ti system of Year name as a custom to calculate time, days, months and years for their own use, they consider the first new moon day of the twelfth month as the last day of the old year, and day of the first waxing moon day the first day of the year or New Year’s Day. The first month in Tai is called Lern Jeing. Yuan (Yonok), Laos, Thais, Khuen, and Lue call this month Doen Ai. The Chinese, Vietnamese and Khmers also consider the first day of the first month as New Year’s Day up to this day. All the people in the Tai ethno family group have considered this day as New Year’s Day for generations. [Lern Jeing or the first month of Yuan is two months faster than Tai and Thai. The first month of Khuen and Lue is one month faster than Tai and Thai. This is according to where the Hora was taken from.]

Any Tai ethno family group, including Thai and Laos celebrate four different New Year Occasions or Rites. They are the Songkran in Thai, the Gregorian New Year’s Day, the Chinese New Year’s Day and the Tai New Year’s Day.

Tai New Year’s Day
This day has been considered to be New Year’s Day by the Tai Race for almost 3,000 years. It falls on the first waxing day of the first month (Lern Jeing) according to the constellations. This is the ancient wisdom and custom of the people of Asia. For South-East Asians this day falls mostly in November and sometimes in December. But the New Year’s Day according to 60 Year name calendar of the Tai Race has been forgotten. Only the Tai Yai people (Tai Long living in the present Shan States) still consider this as a special day and continue to celebrate it up to this day. It is written in The Thai history that this Tai New Year’s Day was celebrated from the Sukkhothai period to the middle Ayutthaya period. Although people from the high society have changed to using the Gregorian New Year’s Day, which is calculated by the movement of the sun, the middle class and the lower class are still using the Tai New Year’s Day. This is because they have to depend on the season and weather to
make their living on agriculture and the months are calculated by the moon and the constellations.

If we calculate the years, months, days and time according to the hora science of the South-East Asians which use the 60-year cycle year name system as said the new moon day of the twelfth month is considered to be the last day of the year. So the first waxing day of the first month or Lern Jeng or Lern Ai is New Year’s Day. It will be a cycle of every year. Our ancestors have used this calendar system to celebrate New Year’s Day by giving alms with newly harvested rice. This means it is the end of cultivation, harvest and produce of the last crop of the old year. In another it was the
end of the 60 cycles (360 days). Finally, I want to request every Tai in the Tai ethno family groups, wherever he may be, to recognize the first day of the first month (Lern Jeng or Lern Ai) as the New
Year’s Day of all the Tai ethno family groups. Even though the first of January is recognized as the official New Year’s Day by the Thai government, we need the further generations to know the real Tai New Year’s Day of our common ancestors. It is the duty of every one of us that this shared cultural value is revived and promoted so that it lasts forever.

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Stalling constitutional amendment to uphold “disciplined democracy”?

On the heels of military law makers rejection of  Articles 59(f) and Article 436, including many other provisions in the 2008, military-drafted Constitution, Lower House Speaker Shwe Mann told a press conference on 10 November that any changes or amendment of it will have to wait until after next year’s general elections.

Although this is hardly a surprise, the urgency in letting the cat out of the bag makes many wonder, if the USDP-Military regime from the outset has no intention, whatsoever, to share political decision-making power with anyone, in anyway.

It seems the bad note given by President Obama on back-sliding or stalled reform process, which have particularly upset the military leadership, coupled with ending of Burma's ASEAN Presidency taken over by Malaysia, it is now free from responsibilities and stately manners, and could show its real nature and motive, on how it would like to dominate and run the country.

And to drive home the message, military top brass have been recently maneuvring to expand the role of National Defense and Security Council (NDSC), a military-dominated 11-member body, which takes the leading role in a State of Emergency, wherein it exercises the powers of the legislature, executive, and judiciary before the Parliaments are again formed. Accordingly, the military representatives, during the recent parliamentary debate put forward the argument that NDSC should be given the right to dissolve the Parliament, if a third of the seats become vacant. With twenty five percent unelected military representatives sitting in the Parliament and the USDP members sure to at least secure some seats, even if it would not be able to secure a stark majority, in the forth-coming 2015 election, like it is now enjoying, the USDP and military factions would be able to create a situation of dissolving the Parliament, whenever they choose, leading to a State of Emergency rule, according to the constitution.

It is a clear indication and intention to create a built-in safety device for the military-dominated government to be able to hold on to power, if things turn out to its disadvantage after the 2015 election.

According to The Irrawaddy report of 19 November, Saw Than Myint, deputy chairman of the Federal Union Party, said : “It’s like saying clearly that there is no situation in which the 2008 Constitution will be amended.”
The same report writes that Mya Aye of the 88 Generation Peace and Open Society, said: “If a few amendments are not made to this Constitution, there will be more doubts about how it will be possible to build a democratic federal union, which the non-Burman ethnic groups are expecting. This is the immediate impact.”

Nai Han Tha, Vice-President of the UNFC, said in an interview with The Irrawaddy that it could be the government-backed USDP would like to maintain its victory in 2015 election and also to ward off amendment within the armed forces, which the Burma Army has been reluctant to comply. He said  the 2008 Constitution is not a real federal union, but just a charter to cloak the real nature of military dictatorship, which the people neither like or support. But he doesn't think that it would have an impact on the ceasefire talks for they haven't touched on the subject or reached the political dialogue phase as yet.

The Irrawaddy report of 18 November also writes, Khu Oo Reh, General Secretary of the United Nationalities Federal Council, told The Irrawaddy that delaying constitutional amendments until 2016 will undermine the integrity of the next elections.

“If none of articles of the 2008 Constitution can be amended and the 2015 election is held based on the current Constitution, it will be very hard to expect that the elections will be a free and fair one,” he said.
Indications are that the democratization and peace process have completely stalled, with the military determined to impose its “disciplined democracy” or military-dominated regime, at the expense of the opposition political parties and the non-Burman ethnic nationalities.

Meanwhile, as if to show and buttress the Burmese military intention of playing hard ball against the Kachin Independence Army (KIA), the government military base at Hkarabum directed artillery shelling at a military cadet training school, in Laiza, killing 22 trainees and wounding 14, according to Eleven Media Group, on 20 November.

According to the report,  Lamai Goon Ja of Peace Creation Group (PCG) said: “ The Burmese troops manning the artillery from the mountain top could see the cadet school clearly and when they saw the cadets were gathering, they fired the big guns.”

KIA spokesman, La Nan also said that the fighting is still ongoing in some areas and described the Laiza encounter as an “ambush”, according to The Irrawaddy report.

The UNFC Statement coming out today said that the attack on KIA Laiza headquarters could be seen in the light of military and political onslaught, following House Speaker Shwe Mann's announcement of shelving amendment of the 2008 military-drawn constitution.

Given such circumstances, the issues of constitutional amendments will be put on ice at least for some time, leaving the military in control of running the country and the signing of Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA) won't materialize anytime soon either, if the government and the military refuse to address the aspirations of ethnic equality in the form of a federal union and insist only upon “negotiated surrender”.

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There’s something in a name

Unlike many non-Burmans (or Bamars), many  of whom SHAN has discussed with agree with U Aung Thaung, the ruling party MP, who proposed that names of states, where non-Burmans are the majority and they used to be territories independent from Burma Proper until independence from the British, should be geographical like Irrawaddy, Mandalay, Magwe, and  so on. Not unlike Texas, California, and so on in the United States.

The logic behind this is simple: when you say Shan State is Shan State, non-Shans might feel left out and their sense of belonging might be at a loss. On the contrary, geographical names may give one a sense of collective belonging. Each state will then be united. And if the states are united, the non-disintegration of the Union, one of the three holy missions of the ruling class, will be guaranteed. It’s as simple as that.

The discussants’ only suggestion, based on the same logic, is why don’t we change the name of the country from Burma/Myanmar to something else. Because, whatever our military leaders say, ‘Myanmar’ is synonymous with Burma or Bamar. As Indian is to Babuji, and Chinese is to Paukhpaw. The eminent Aung San Suu Kyi herself has acknowledged that. (At least the name Burma was adopted by the 1947 Constituent Assembly that was made up of both Burman and non-Burman states’ representatives.)

Actually this story is not new. During the 1993-2007 National Convention, ostensibly held to lay basic constitutional principles, a similar proposal was presented by military representatives. Critics against it said there were two reasons they were against it:
One, unlike American states, those in Burma have historically been known by the names of their ethnic majority in each state
Two, racial discrimination and racial assimilation have been an official policy of successive Burmese rulers. There has been little or no human rights, let alone indigenous rights, for these peoples. “The only thing that remains is our ethnic labels,” one said. “And now they are even trying to erase it.”

Nonetheless, the discussants are certain that the non-Burmans won’t have any objection to changing their states’ names, if only our Burman/Bamar/Myanmar leaders are happy to do the same with the country’s name. After all, it belongs not only to the Burman/Bamar/Myanmar people, but also to the non-Burmans as well.

One way to do it is suggested by one of the discussants: That is, to combine all the first letters of each major ethnic group and form them into a word, an acronym. The result of the exercise is quite interesting-and hilarious.

S     - Shan
M  - Myanmar, Mon
A   - Arakan
C   - Chin
K   - Kachin, Karen and Karenni (Kayah)

Accordingly, the country, for unity’s sake, should therefore be re-named “Smack”.

Well, this is just an example and not one that is easy to get used to without getting some sort of smiles from our neighbors.

We are sure there must be names that are better getting used to. If we just try.

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Thai authorities demand monitoring of EAO meetings

Thai officials returning to Chiangmai from last week’s security meeting in Pisanulok, headquarters of the Third Regional Army that oversees security along the Thai-Burmese border, have said that meetings, seminars and workshops being planned by ethnic armed organizations (EAOs) in Thailand should be notified in advance to them.

NCCT-UPWC Meeting on 22-26 September 2014 (Photo: Face book/Hla Maung Shwe)

“They would be required to give a written notice and allow one or two of our officials as observers,” one told SHAN. “In other words, we will be happy to accommodate the peace process. Burma’s peace is in our interests.”

Since the beginning of the peace process in August 2011, successive Thai governments have tolerated EAO gatherings inside the kingdom.

“They should also be aware of the agreement that has been made between the Burmese and Thai militaries,” he added. “And that is the two sides will cooperate closely against drug trafficking and arms smuggling.”

The Nationwide Ceasefire Coordination Team (NCCT), formed at the Kachin stronghold Laiza by the EAOs in November 2013, is reportedly planning to hold a meeting in Chiangmai next week to review the controversial 4th Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA) draft that was produced between it and the government’s Union Peacemaking Work Committee (UPWC) at the 22-26 September meeting in Rangoon.

The next NCCT-UPWC meeting has been planned to be in early December though the date has yet to be fixed.

Another military source told SHAN later not only EAOs but also unarmed activist organizations are included in the directive issued by the Third Army commander, Lt-Gen Sathit Pittrat. “Which means civil society organizations (CSOs) based in Thailand must also notify any meetings they are planning to hold,” he says.

So far Third Army units along the border have been more focused on drugs and arms running, not political and social activities inside Thailand.

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Myanmar's reform miracle stalls

Euphoria that accompanied early post-junta accomplishments fades as leaders realise how great an uphill climb the country faces.

Writer: Larry Jagan

The East Asia Summit in Nay Pyi Taw last week was meant to be the country's crowning glory, and evidence that the government had successfully introduced political and economic reforms. 

While many Myanmar government leaders admit that there is still much to be done, especially in education, health and social welfare, many of the world and regional leaders in Myanmar for the summit must have been dismayed to see the reality — there are few tangible results from the political and economic reform process started nearly four years ago, when Thein Sein became president and formed a quasi-civilian administration.

"Even though there may be some moves that seem to be backsliding, in my view they are the reality checks we have to face on the bumpy road to democracy," the president's chief political advisor, Ko Ko Hlaing told me recently. "No reform in the world has been flawless and smooth. Compared to other transitions — like Indonesia and Korea in the early years of their reform — ours is much better and peaceful."

But the reality is that Myanmar's political and economic reform process has run aground. Thein Sein's government has been virtually impotent for months, with little progress to show, despite the talk of the reform process entering the third stage. In fact the rollout of new mobile telephone networks has hit significant snags, the much-trumpeted peace process is beginning to unravel, and foreign investment is stagnating.

The country's pro-democracy leader and head of the opposition National League for Democracy (NLD), Aung San Suu Kyi, put it bluntly at a news conference on the eve of the summit, when she warned the western powers, including the United States, that they had been too optimistic and gullible in believing Thein Sein was committed to the transition to democracy.

"If they really study the situation in this country they would know that this reform process started stalling early last year," she said. "In fact, I would like to challenge those who talk so much about the reform process, [to point out] what significant reform steps have been taken within the last 24 months."

There is no doubt that for more than a year now, the reform had indeed stalled. Few concrete decisions are being made, and any economic progress that may have been achieved in the first two years of the Thein Sein government has petered out. Even the president's political advisers admit the reform process has lost momentum.

"The third wave of reforms announced by the president earlier this year is intended reboot the slowing reform process," said Ko Ko Hlaing. "The government is trying to boost both public and private-sector support for the reforms, having realised now that the government elites alone cannot complete the whole transformation process on their own."

"Everything is stalled as ministers are having trouble making decisions," admitted Zaw Oo, a presidential economic adviser. "Although ministers are still powerful, they are now more answerable than in the past to the president and the ministers in the president's office that is overseeing them, and to parliament." This has left many ministers nervous and indecisive, he added. They are now more reluctant to push their policy ideas through.

"There is no such thing as a real reformer in the cabinet," said a senior media editor close to the government, on condition of anonymity. This is a view endorsed by Ma Thida — a renowned writer, human rights activist, editor, medical doctor and former political prisoner, whose pen name is Suragamika or Brave Traveller. "Myanmar is still not yet in a transition period; the best that can be said is the government is trying to reform," he said.

Amid the government inertia, the biggest problem is that the farmers and the poor people in the urban areas have not reaped any benefits from the reform process. "For them there has been no democracy dividend," said social commentator Khine Win.

"The gap between the powerful and the powerless is extremely wide; and it's growing wider all the time. The resources are concentrated in the rulers' hands, with daily land grabs constantly exacerbating the situation."
"We want democracy, we want freedom and we want a better life," said taxi driver Win Lwin, who lives on the outskirts of Yangon. "But since this government came to power, prices have risen — my rent has doubled in the last twelve months, there is a greater shortage of electricity, and work as a taxi driver is even harder, and I earn even less than before."

But this was almost inevitable, as the Thein Sein government were never really committed to democratisation and economic liberalism. "Guided democracy" was always the lasting mantra inherited from Than Shwe — the former military leader who finally retired in January 2011 — when he handed over power to the current quasi-civilian government.

They had only one main mission: to get Myanmar accepted by the international community and to roll back sanctions. Having done that more quickly than expected, they were then at a loss to know what to do next. "There is no overall strategic plan, everything is done on an ad hoc basis," said one of the many advisers to the president, who declined to be identified.

There is no consistency within government on its development plan for the future, or agreement on any immediate goals. For example, the head of the newly reformed MIC, the energy minister Zayar Aung, told foreign investors and Myanmar business analysts earlier this year that he would not entertain any joint venture that was worth less than $300 million. Smaller schemes, he believes, would not have a significant impact on the country before the end 2015 to help boost the ruling party's popularity in the forthcoming elections.

While there is a strong construction boom, especially in Yangon, there is no over all economic strategy. Efforts at privatisation have stalled: "Official information and data on what has been privatised, how and why it was done, and outcomes … are hard to come by," the president's chief economic adviser, U Myint, said at a commerce ministry seminar last month.

"I know more about what is going on between Brad Pitt and [Angelina] Jolie than what is going on in our privatisation process," he admitted.

Although the government claims economic liberalism is a central part of its reform process, there is no tangible evidence of this, according to many economic analysts.

"While it [the government] maybe a narrowly defined as pro-business, it is not really committed to liberalising the market. There is a lack of reforms in the pipeline; many crucial areas are not even being considered; even the reforms being introduced — the exchange rate, foreign investment and banking reform —have been a relative failure.

Foreign investment has slowed to a trickle, after the halcyon days of the initial opening when Thein Sein came into office nearly four years ago, because of government administrative failure, the campaign to change the constitution and the forthcoming elections.

"In the lead-up to the elections, and in the jockeying and positioning before it, economic reform in Myanmar has more or less come to a halt," said Sean Turnell, a Myanmar specialist at Australia's Macquarie University. "Worse, re-emergent protectionist elements connected to Myanmar's 'cronies' have forced reform backward in some areas."
This is particularly the case in both the telecoms and banking sectors, where brave attempts to open up to foreign investors and adopt international standards were pared away by the interference of the nationalist business interests, especially in parliament.

In the countryside things are even worse. "There is no agrarian reform," said Turnell. "In fact farmers — who make up some 80% of the workforce — are worse off. And for at least 70%, there is no prospect for any improvement soon."

This government administrative inertia is in part the result of the campaign to change the constitution — especially Provision 436 which gives the military in parliament, where they have a compulsory quota of 25%, a virtual veto over changes to the constitution, and 59F which effectively bars the opposition leader being president. These, along with more than 200 other sections, are being debated in parliament this month. But most analysts believe the key changes are unlikely to be passed in parliament by the required majority of 75%.

In the end there is little to commend the Thein Sein government's reform process to the outside world, so desperate to them the benefit of the doubt.

"There is no rule of law; and the government still directly or indirectly controls everything, including the media," said Bo Kyi, who runs the leading association for political prisoners and returned to Yangon recently after years in exile. Things are better, but they haven't really changed that much, he mused. "There is some space, we can meet people, but we cannot go beyond that."

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Peace Process: Lessons from Catalan referendum

More than a week has passed after the Yes or No vote to Spain’s Catalonia region was taken on Sunday, 9 November.

Propelled by the economic crisis, sentiment in favour of a complete break from Spain has been on the rise (Photo by BBC)

These are the facts:
Catalans, like non-Burmans in Burma, are ethnically distinct from the majority Castilian Spanish

Spain is made up of Castilian 74.4%, Catalan 16.9%, Galician 6.4 %, Basque 1.6% and others 0.7% (

The use of Catalan, as the Catalonian language is known, has equal status with Castilian and is now actively encouraged in education, official use and the media (BBC)

It is one of Spain’s richest and most highly industrialized regions, and also one of the most independent minded (BBC)

The region’s population is 7.5 million. 5.4 million were eligible to vote. 81% of the 2.25 million who had participated in the referendum had voted Yes. Meanwhile, more than 58% are non-participants. Therefore, the “results were obviously skewed toward independence”(Business Insider)

The main reason for the majority of eligible voters staying away was attributed to two things: the supreme court’s earlier decision that the referendum would be illegal and Madrid’s threat to use force

Above all, Spain’s 1978 constitution’s Article 2 champions “the indissoluble unity of the Spanish nation.” The public vote therefore ended only as a non-binding and symbolic victory.

So how does it compare with the Shans of Shan State?

Shans, like Catalans, are ethnically distinct from the majority Burman

Burma is made up of Burmans 58.69% and others 41.31% including Shans 7.08% (1931 census)

The use of Shan is limited to teaching it at non-school hours and media but not official

It is one of Burma’s richest in terms of natural resources and also one of the most independent minded

The state’s population is 5.8 million of which around 50% (according to 1941 census) are Shans. The rest is made up of PaO, Ta-ang, Wa, Kachin, Lahu, and others

According to the 2008 constitution’s Article 10, “No part of the territory constituted in the Union such as Regions, States, Union territories and Self-Administered Areas shall ever secede from the Union.” Moreover Chapter 11 has empowered the armed forces to exercise all 3 sovereign powers “If there arises or if there is sufficient reason  for a state of emergency to arise  that may disintegrate the Union”

Besides the Shans are notorious when it comes to the question of unity though most of them are said to be bent on independence.

The other crucial question is whether or not the non-Shans who constitute the other half of the state’s population, may join them in their quest for independence.

A cursory look therefore says that unless the Shans have satisfactory answers to the above two questions, our Burman rulers need not be overly worried about separatism. Because worry may be just a reflection of their feelings of guilt over their past and present misrule of these peoples, both Burman and non-Burmans alike.

The integrity of a nation however does not rest on laws, constitution or force, but only in returning to the basics, according to the Chinese sage Lao Zi:

A great nation lowers itself
And wins over a small one
Rivers and seas can rule the hundred valleys
Because they are good at lying low
They are lords of the valleys

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Under the Buddha’s shade - Day 3

Day Three: Saturday,8 November 2014.
We didn’t have time to visit the Western Hills also known as the Buddha Hills, as the shape of the mountain looks from afar like a man lying on his back.

To get there we have to buy tickets for the cable car, known as ropeway here, across the Dianchi Lake up to the mountain. It cost us Y 70 (about $12 or B 380) each. The exciting part of the trip is when we get to the shoulder of the mountain and change from the cabin-like gondolas to the open air one which is just like a chair for two with nothing to hold on but the arms of the chair and a wooden bar in front of us. Of course, there are signs along the ropeway warning naughty old people like me not to swing the chair back and forth thereby endangering both companion oneself and one’s companion.

There is nothing much else to say about the trip up the mountain except that the view is superb. The lake is 298 square kilometers, nearly 3 times as large as our Inlay lake.

We then puff up and down the stone stairs both along the side and inside of the mountain until we get to its holy destination: the Dragon Gate. The signs on the way are all written in two languages: Chinese and Thai.

The only remarkable thing to mention here is about the lady who is repeating by rote on the merits of the tea bags she’s trying to sell innocent travelers like me. Of course, after listening to her and drunk some of her tea, we feel ashamed enough of ourselves to buy some of her products. She then moves to the next table to recite her magic words to other prospective customers.

During our return, I remember one of the semi-legendary events in the Shan history books and recount it to my cousins who have never heard of it before.

Maybe you haven’t either. So here it is:
Kunming, according to Shan Scholars, used to be known as Nawng Hsae (The Lake of the Dragon). At the time of this story, it was ruled by Hkun Lu Fong aka Ko-Lo-Feng (748-779). He had a beautiful daughter named Narg Khae aka Nang Pabhavadee, whose hand was eagerly sought by young men far and near, high and low.
The king, unable to choose a son-in-law to his liking, moved the princess to a palace built in the lake and announced that any man who could reach it and strike the gong there without using a bridge or a boat, or getting himself wet, would be given her hand.

Hkun Teung Kham from Mongmao (today’s Ruili), whose mother was a dragon and whose father had been given a stick by her to strike the water 3 times when he needed her, did as he was instructed by his father. The dragon appeared and asked him who he was and what he wanted. When she learned he was her son and what his purpose was, she took him to the palace on her back thereby fulfilling the king’s wish.

Whether the story is true or not isn’t important. What is important is that he married Hkun Lu Fong’s daughter and established a princedom in 763 at Mongmao out of which emerged several famous kings, especially Hso Khan Fa (1311-1364), whose suzerignty,  according to J.G. Scott, stretched as far Assam in the west and almost all of today’s Burma except Arakan.

It is a lovely day. The rains have stopped since my arrival. And seagulls from Siberia have started to arrive.

 I return to the hotel to watch news about APEC proceedings in Beijing and tomorrow’s referendum in Catalonia, where its non-Spanish Catalan people have been calling for a separate nationhood.
 Well, for Spain, for Shans and all of us, nothing remains the same.
As the late Louis L’amour wrote:
A ship doesn’t sail with yesterday’s wind. Neither does a mill runs with the water that is past.

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