Nine political and ethnic parties in Myanmar announced Wednesday that they would form a coalition next month in their bid to push for a democratic federal union and for amendments to the constitution.
The nine smaller parties decided to form the Federal Democratic Alliance (FDA) as part of a bid to make their collective voice heard in parliament, National Democratic Force (NDF) chairman Khin Maung Swe told RFA’s Myanmar Service following a meeting at his party’s headquarters in Yangon.
“We have just agreed to form the FDA and we are going to sign the agreement on Jan. 7,” Khin Maung Swe said, adding that the group of nine had also extended invitations to “other parties” as well.
The NDF is the biggest of the nine parties, in terms of representation in parliament.
“Small political parties should be united to move forward with democracy. We don’t have many democratic forces in parliament because the movement has not been united, so we’ve agreed to form this alliance to increase our efforts in future parliament meetings.”
Khin Maung Swe said the coalition would allow the group to “work on forming a federal union and a democracy at the same time,” in an indication that they would speak up on the current debate on amending the constitution to pave the way for more democratic and political reforms.
He said the FDA would outline their priorities on Jan. 7, after making the alliance official, but added that they would focus on cultivating a sense of both individual ethnic and union nationalism.
“Myanmar is a country where many different ethnic people live together … If [we can promote both forms of nationalism] we will have unity and development, and businesses will grow in our country,” he said.
“We can’t expect to have the same perspective amongst every different party, but we will have to come to agreements in order to present a unified voice on big issues as the FDA.”
In addition to the NDF, the FDA will consist of the Democratic Party (Myanmar), Democracy and Peace Party, Party for Unity and Peace, Union Democratic Party, Kayin (Karen) People’s Party, Peace and Diversity Party, United Democratic Party, and Chin Development Party.
The announcement by the nine parties came as Myanmar’s parliamentary Joint-Committee for Reviewing the Constitution (JCRC) announced it will meet on Jan. 7 to “process and discuss” the proposals it has received regarding amending the charter, according to a report by the Democratic Voice of Burma (DVB).
In November, the 109-member parliamentary review committee, formed in June, extended the deadline to submit proposals by one month until the end of the year.
The JCRC announced last week that it had received over 400 letters from political parties, organizations, and individuals with 2,512 suggestions to amend the constitution, DVB said.
Aung San Suu Kyi’s opposition National League for Democracy (NLD) party has called for sweeping amendments to the constitution ahead of Myanmar’s next national election in 2015.
The country’s ruling officials have mostly expressed support for constitutional amendments. But with elections two years away, some observers say the process so far has been slow.
The charter, written in 2008 toward the end of decades of military rule, reserves a quarter of seats in parliament for the military and requires a three-quarters majority for a national referendum on proposed amendments.
Ethnic-based political parties in Myanmar and armed rebel groups negotiating cease-fire agreements with the government after decades of military conflict have called for amendments that allow ethnic groups and states greater autonomy.
Following talks in recent months, the government and the rebel groups have agreed in principle to sign a nationwide cease-fire agreement as a first step towards permanent peace after decades of fighting. They also agreed to hold a dialogue to devise an enduring political settlement.
President Thein Sein’s government has signed cease-fire agreements with several ethnic rebel groups since being elected to power in 2011, and is racing to forge a standard pact covering all groups as part of a bid to speed up reforms after nearly 50 years of military rule.
Government negotiators have said they want to get all of the rebel groups to sign the nationwide cease-fire together at a ceremony in the capital Naypyidaw by the end of the year.
In addition to forming a federal union, ethnic rebels hope that political dialogue with the government will provide their groups with greater autonomy in rapidly reforming Myanmar.
Last month, Myanmar's political parties and ethnic armed rebel groups wrapped up their first meeting as part of the peace process, with participants saying it had boosted trust in efforts to forge national reconciliation.
The meeting between leaders of the umbrella United Nationalities Federal Alliance (UNFC) rebel group and representatives from 11 opposition and ethnic-based political parties was held in neighboring Thailand’s northern Chiang Mai city.
Reported by Yadanar Oo for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.