The 2008 Constitution, which came into force on January 31, 2011 shows optimistic signs of progress towards the ethnic nationalities’ goal for self-determination. There are provisions for ethnic nationality rights and equality, and more importantly, it takes the form of federalism with decentralization and democratization of power.
At the same time there are important issues that have not been addressed, namely revenue sharing and division of power. Both of these are defined in general terms in the constitution without detailed implementation. In particular, how administrative functions will be divided and coordinated between central government ministries and regional governments have not been worked out in practice. In addition, the overriding power reserved for the military at all levels of government, which even supersedes that of the president, is the biggest concern for ethnic groups. The 25% seats in parliament reserved for the military also means that making any amendments will be difficult to pass without their approval. Most importantly, in a state of emergency, all provisions for human rights and democracy can be overturned. For these reasons, most active armed groups are demanding to hold political talks outside of parliament.
According to the ethnic umbrella group United Nationalities League for Democracy (UNLD) Policies & 8 Basic Principles in 1990, 5 out of 8 points have been met.
Sections in the constitution providing rights and protection for “national races”
Chapter I Basic Principles of the Union
Chapter VIII Citizen
Chapter IX ELECTION
Several challenges remain for implementing a genuine federalist system;
Structures dominated by USDP
All of the decentralized powers and structures are dominated by the military’s Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP).
The speakers for all of state legislatures are from the USDP, as are the chief ministers, who head the state executives (with the exception of the Chief Minister for Kayin [Karen] State, who is a military legislator).
Speakers of the State Legislatures:
Kachin state U Rawan Jone USDP
Chief Ministers of the states:
Kachin state U La John Ngan Hsai USDP Kachin businessman
Criticisms of the constitution
Major issues raised by ethnic armed groups
Article 6: (f) The military should not have a role in politics.
Article 14: The military should not have reserved seats and should compete fairly with others.
Chapter 12 Amendment of the constitution (6 steps)
Ethnic Parties in Parliament
Ethnic political parties will have some limited influence over these structures through their seats in the legislatures (some of which have sizable blocs):
State Ministers from Ethnic Parties
Membership of legislative standing committees and their ministerial positions in state governments (see table below). They include a number of areas that can have a significant impact on people’s lives: land, including allocation of land and agricultural loans, local business (small business loans and some taxation), cultural promotion, and municipal issues. However, some argue that most of the power remains at the National and State level ministry representatives lack any real power.