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Multiparty dialogue makes a difference

As DIPD continues its support to multiparty dialogue processes in Myanmar, it provides opportunities for sharing experiences in how multiparty dialogue can make a difference for countries undergoing political transitions. To this end, DIPD provided an opportunity to exchange ideas and experiences between two of its partner countries, Kenya and Myanmar, through the visit of the Chairperson of the Centre for Multiparty Democracy—Kenya (CMD-Kenya), Honourable Omingo Magara to Myanmar.

The CMD-Kenya, a partner of the Liberal Party (Venstre) in Denmark, has convened multiparty dialogue on numerous occasions during the country’s complicated political transitions. Dialogue supported by CMD-Kenya helped Kenya overcome violence in the wake of the 2007 elections and also helped build consensus during Kenya’s constitution-making process. Like Myanmar, Kenya faces significant challenges in building unity across ethnic groups and managing a lengthy and complicated political transition process.

Myanmar, which held its first peaceful and credible elections in 60 years in November 2015, is currently embarking on dialogue to build peace and set a framework for multiparty dialogue on the political transition. The country still faces challenges from a number of armed insurgencies operating in minority ethnic regions. The ruling National League for Democracy campaigned on a platform of constitutional reform, but there is still a lack of consensus over the timing and scope of the reform process, with the military holding a virtual veto power over constitutional amendment.

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Bilateral Meetings with Major Political Forces

During the visit of the CMD-Kenya Chairperson, the Myanmar Multiparty Democracy Programme organized meetings with senior political party leaders from four major political forces: the NLD, the Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), the party representing the former military regime, the Nationalities Brotherhood Federation (NBF), and alliance representing ethnic parties, and the United Nationalities Alliance (UNA), another alliance representing ethnic parties. The Chairperson also held a session that brought senior leaders from parliamentary parties together to discuss how dialogue can contribute to an inclusive democratic transition, based on the Kenyan experience. Hon. Omingo Magara also discussed how the structure and practices of the CMD-Kenya provide a non-partisan and inclusive forum for dialogue and party capacity building on a range of topics.

Highlights of the visit included a meeting with USDP Party Chairperson and former President U Thein Sein, who shared experiences on how the former ruling party ushered in political, economic and social transitions, and oversaw smooth elections leading to a peaceful handover of power. In response, Hon. Omingo Magara related experiences of how Kenya negotiated a political transition through multiparty dialogue with the culmination of a new constitution in 2010 and peaceful elections in 2013.

During a discussion with the UNA, the alliance members shared their numerous initiatives to advance multiparty dialogue and shared their challenges in building a truly inclusive dialogue in the context of Myanmar’s tremendous diversity. The Chairperson of the CMD-Kenya discussed negotiation strategies and how trust and inclusiveness can help make dialogue successful in the long run.  “Nothing is negotiated until all is negotiated”, the Chairperson repeatedly underlined an important principle in consensus building in a politically charged environment.

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Dialogue, dialogue, dialogue

At the final dialogue of senior leaders of parliamentary parties, party leaders shared a number of concerns regarding the upcoming peace and political dialogue framework discussions. Parties were able to reach consensus on the importance of making the upcoming discussions as inclusive as possible, and also recognized the importance of having a neutral convener and for trust and openness to make upcoming dialogue a success. The participating leaders asked many questions on the Kenyan experience, including how Kenya held leaders accountable for promises made during multiparty dialogue and how the Kenyan constitution protects minority interests. Hon. Omingo Magara was able to engage participants in thoughtful reflection and frank discussion and the parties generated useful ideas for how to approach upcoming dialogue.

“This [dialogue and sharing of best practices] is very useful for us. One time is not enough — there needs to be a platform for consistent dialogue between the party leaders to regularly communicate with each other and discuss issues…”, Htoot May from Arakan National Party has commented.

DIPD will through its multiparty democracy programme in Myanmar continue to convene multiparty dialogue initiatives in order to support political parties to engage constructively in the upcoming dialogue processes in Myanmar as well as in the democratic transition.

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