The second draft of the Shan State constitution recently published by the Exiled Shan State Constitution Drafting Commission (SSCDC) recommends that every major ethnic group in Shan State shall have the right to form a sub-state and every sub-state shall have full rights to self-determination as well.
The state shall be composed of geographical sub-states with a dominant ethnic group in each. The catch is that the member sub-states will adopt a geographical name and not an ethnic name, according to the draft, as suggested by constitutional experts.“If each sub-state is set up with an ethnic name, later there can be problems among different ethnic groups in it,” according to one of the experts, Dr.David Williams. “Therefore giving a geographical name would be a better solution.”
Geographic names can be drawn from names of rivers and streams like India, from names of persons like Rhodesia, America, France, Italy and Germany, he said.
But most respondents from every ethnic community so far have been cool to the idea, claiming their identities would be gone if they are not allow to use ethnic names, according to a survey conducted by the members of the commission.
“This is a natural response by each ethnic community to protect its identity, especially when it is deprived of its individual rights,” said Hkun Okker, legal counsel to SSCDC and Executive Committee Member of the exile Burma Lawyers Council (BLC).
On the other hand, if the country’s rulers (the military junta) believe geographical names will help cement unity they should lead the way by renaming the country on a geographic basis, he added.
“But if there are full individual rights, the calls for collective rights, such as autonomy and ethnically-named autonomous areas, are weakened,” Khun Okker told SHAN earlier, citing Canada’s Quebec, where the majority of voters have kept turning down motions to set up a French dominant independent state in state-wide referendums.
The latest suggestion by some commissioners is that to keep the idea flexible: that is, to allow people to choose which name they would prefer to use, geographical or ethnic.
Nevertheless, there will be further discussion about the idea, according Khuensai Jaiyen, Chairman of the SSCDC, saying, “This is not the final draft.”
Apart from this idea, the charter has another nine significant characteristics as well, which is different to the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC) drawn 2008 constitution, Khuensai said.
They are as follows:
· A federal structure
· A democratic decentralized administrative system
· Sovereign power derives from the people of Shan State
· To be a member state of a genuine federal union with other states
· To guarantee equality among the Shan State’s ethnic nationalities
· To guarantee basic human rights and gender equality
· To practice a multi-party democratic system
· To be a secular state
The charter has been published in different languages such as Shan, Pa-O, Lisu, Kayan, Burmese, English and Chinese. The Chinese version will be distributed soon. Kachin and Palaung versions however have not been completed yet.
For those who would like to receive printed copies, please contact, Na Ve Bo, General Secretary, SSCDC.