As part of the Danish Social Democratic Party’s (SDP) partnership with the regional network SocDem Asia, a three day seminar and workshop session on policy-making was held in Yangon, Myanmar, from January 18-20, 2017.
This article is written by Iben Merrild, International Consultant at the Danish Social Democratic Party, as a report on their ongoing partnership with SocDem Asia.
A social democratic partnership
The partnership between the SDP and SocDem Asia seeks to bring the social democratic values, themes and processes from the regional network of SocDem Asia to the national level of the participating political parties. As such, the partnership works directly with the Akbayan Citizen’s Action party in the Philippines, Nepali Congress in Nepal and the parties Democratic Party for a New Society (DPNS) and Shan Nationalities League for Democracy (SNLD) in Myanmar.
The political parties in each country have chosen a specific theme to develop a policy on during the project which runs until the end of 2017. Nepali Congress opted to work on social inclusion in the newly ratified constitution, Akbayan selected universal healthcare and in Myanmar DPNS and SNLD decided to work towards developing a policy that could feed into the ongoing peace process in the country. According to the DNPS leader, the topic was chosen due to the fact that it is impossible to have democratization without peace and vice-versa.
Narrowing the focus on peace
Drawing on input from local resource speakers including the SNLD representative and second secretary in the Union Peace Dialogue Joint-Committee, Sai Kyaw Nyunt, regional speakers on the peace processes in Nepal, Basu Gautam, and the Philippines, Rechie Tugawin, as well as the Danish social democratic experience of inclusive policy making presented by the Danish social democratic, MP Lars Aslan Rasmussen, the participants from the DPNS and SNLD embarked on three days of issue analysis and agenda setting, as well as policy formulation and development on the topic of peace.
Working on the issue of peace is no simple feat and the ongoing peace process in the country is complex to say the least. As such, the participants, who ranged from the leadership of the two parties, female state and union MP’s, youth wing leaders to ordinary members, were inspired by the Social Democratic Party’s method of using debate tablecloths to identify what they considered sub-themes and challenges to achieving peace. The sub-issues that need to be dealt with to achieve peace were identified as being the following: lack of democracy, inequality, lack of self-determination for ethnic groups, role of the military, national disunity, lack of political leadership, the 2008 constitution and issues around culture/caste.
Through subsequent workshops participants conducted a mock stakeholder analysis and attempted to narrow the policy focus further by identifying actions and measures that need to be brought about to deal particularly with the three issues of self-determination for ethnic groups, inequality (in various forms) and the role of the military. Going forward the project team in Myanmar will use all the documentation and input provided to by the participants to settle on a single sub-theme and concretise it further to ensure that it can be made into a draft policy ahead of sectoral consultations later in the spring.
An inclusive peace dialogue
With the new government under Aung San Suu Kyi, the chance for peace is the highest in almost 70 years of conflict. Indeed at the 21st Panglong Peace Conference in August 2016 nearly all armed groups attended. The next bi-yearly peace conference is expected to take place next month. This process is however faced by many challenges. While a very positive step, so far only eight ethnic armed organisations have signed the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement in 2015, while other major armed organizations have yet to join the agreement, and armed conflict is still escalating among some groups. Moreover, some feel that there can never be real peace as long as the military occupies 25 per cent of the seats in government in accordance with the 2008 Constitution.
For parties liked the DPNS which only returned to Myanmar as a party in 2014, after having been banned since the 1990s, with members and leaders imprisoned or forced into exile at the Thai border, an inclusive peace process and dialogue is alpha omega. This can be a difficult task to ensure as there are an estimated 90 political parties in Myanmar. Currently the Panglong Peace Conferences and the Union Peace Dialogue Joint-Committee only involve parties in Parliament. Therefore, the DPNS and SNLD, the latter of which does have representation in Parliament, are advocating for a more inclusive peace dialogue that will involve all interested political parties, ethnic groups and civil society organisations. Until this happens the intention is that the policy developed will be used by SNLD MP’s and feed into the UPDJC via the SNLD to the extent possible, and that former DPNS members that are now NLD members in Parliament will take note of the policy when they participate in the peace process.
The partnership between the Danish Social Democratic Party and SocDem Asia is funded through DIPD’s Political Party Support Window.
Read more about DIPD’s work in Myanmar, where we are part of the EU supported STEP Democracy Programme.
Contact International Consultant at the Danish Social Democratic Party, Iben Merrild: firstname.lastname@example.org
Contact Project Coordinator at DIPD, Mathias Parsbæk Skibdal: email@example.com