In 1947, Bo Gyoke Aung San met with ethnic leaders, mostly Shan, Kachin and Chin, and concluded an agreement in a town named “Panglong.” The agreement became known as the “Panglong Agreement.”
A Panglong principle or spirit of equal representation was born along with the Panglong Agreement. What is sad is that the spirit of the agreement was missing in each of the following Burmese constitutions.
So what is the Panglong Agreement and Panglong spirit?
In the Panglong Agreement preamble, it is described: “The members of the Conference, believing that freedom will be more speedily achieved by the Shans, the Kachins and the Chins by their immediate co-operation with the Interim Burmese Government, have accordingly, and without dissentients, agreed:”
With the Panglong Agreement, ethnic leaders entrusted their fate to Gen Aung San to determine their future by achieving absolute independence from the British followed by a power-sharing. In return for their cooperation, Aung San agreed to equal rights for ethnic people and assured them of a Union form of government with power sharing as well as a right of secession. An spirit of mutual trust and mutual benefit was born in the Panglong spirit. But it did not last long.
However, in the 1947 Constitution, ethnic leaders say that real power was not with the lower bodies, resulting in a semi-federal or unitary state in essence. The central government controlled all power at the local, state and central level, leaving non-Burman ethnic groups no power at all.
An attempt was made to save the Panlong spirit just before the Ne Win era. In June 1961, more than 200 ethnic leaders from Shan, Kachin, Karenni, Karen, Chin, Mon and Rakhine met at Taung Gyi in Shan State and held a constitutional review conference in which they demanded a “genuine federal union.”
As promised in election campaigns, U Nu, then the prime minister, convened a National Convention in February 1962 in Rangoon. In this convention, which political parties, ethnic leaders and government representatives attended, Chao Khun Cho, the minister for Shan State, addressed the convention.
He pointed out the flaws of the 1947 Constitution and submitted a plan to form union they preferred; to unite Burma as one state; to assure equal power to two houses; to send equal numbers of representatives to a “house of nationalities” and to give limited power to federal government whereas residual power remained in the states.
Gen Ne Win interrupted the process by a coup d’état, claiming he was preventing the union from disintegration. As a result, civil war intensified.
Ne Win suspended the 1947 constitution together with the Panglong Agreement. Ne Win launched propaganda a propaganda campaign linking “federal principles” to the disintegration of the union.
There are 135 races or tribes in Burma according to the military’s account. About half of the so-called 135 races are from Chin State, which makes up about only 3 percent of the population. Burma has only eight constituent states: Arakan, Chin, Kachin, Shan, Kayah, Karen, Mon and Burman. The Burman is the largest ethnic group, approximately 60 percent of the population, of about 50 million. The remainder is made up of other ethnic nationalities. Continue reading “Panglong Agreement, Federal Principles and the 2008 Constitution” →
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