In connection with multiparty democracy, it is stipulated that the State practises discipline-flourishing genuine multiparty democracy.

– Leaked version of Burma’s draft 2008 constitution: Chapter 1, Article 3.

After a long journey from Burmese government sources I have been passed an English translation of Burma’s 2008 constitution that helpfully also includes the Burmese language text. Other leaked copies are apparently circulating in Yangon. Unfortunately the Burmese people have yet to see an official copy. As a result, I can’t give any assurance that this is the final draft and obviously there may be last-minute amendments or deletions before it is put to the national vote.

As it stands, the constitution is divided into 15 chapters and in this translated version runs to almost 500 pages. It is available here.

There is a huge amount in this constitution that will be of interest to New Mandala readers.

For starters, the various categories of people barred from seeking public office (as either President or Hluttaw representative) are designed, no doubt, to keep many prominent and critical voices out of power. Any Burmese with strong “foreign” connections (however interpreted) looks like they may have trouble getting involved. Aung San Suu Kyi, any Burmese who have recently lived abroad, anybody whose organisation is linked to foreign support, etc, are all potentially locked out of the political process. And on some points the categories of persons barred from politics is not as clear as it could be. Much looks like it will be left up to executive discretion and interpretation.

At the same time a number of the semi-autonomous areas created after ceasefires in the 1980s and 1990s will be re-designated as “self-administered divisions” or “self-administered zones”. They include areas populated by Naga (which, to the best of my knoweldge, has never been formally declared a Special Region), Danu, Pa-O, Palaung, Kokang and Wa. These areas are all in the Shan State and the Sagaing Region (currently called “Division”) and do not even begin to cover the range of other spaces that have been “self-administered” since the ceasefires. The immediate question is – where have the other Special Regions gone? What about, for example, the three Kachin Special Regions in the Kachin State and the northern Shan State? What about the other ceasefire groups? The Mon? The Shan? Reading the whole constitution the idea seems to be that these groups (whether the National Democratic Alliance Army, the New Mon State Party or the Kachin Independence Organisation) will be dissolved and replaced by civilian (and therefore un-armed?) political organisations. This would be a big change.

Hopefully there will be more indication of developments on the “ethnic” front soon.

It is, however, apparent that in all major spheres of life (including ethnic politics) the armed forces and “the State” are reinforcing their dominant position. As just one example (from Chapter 1, Article 4), the constitution proclaims that:

In connection with State structure, it is laid down that –
(4) (a) the Union is constituted by Pyidaungsu (Union) systems;
(b) the existing seven divisions are designated seven regions and the existing seven states are designated seven states. Those seven regions and seven states are of equal status and authority;
(c) the names of those seven regions and seven states are retained as they are at present;
(d) if it is desired to change the name of a region or a state, it shall be done so with enactment of law after ascertaining the wishes of citizens residing in the region or state concerned;
(e) no part of the territory of the Union, namely, regions, states and self-administered areas etc., shall ever secede from the Union.

None of this is particularly surprising and I doubt it will come as much of a shock to the millions of Burmese who have been locked out of the secretive constitution drafting process. The goal of this constitution is to entrench the position of the armed forces and ensure that the Commander-in-Chief of the Defence Services (currently Senior General Than Shwe) retains a pivotal role in the “discipline-flourishing” democracy.

In fact, throughout the entire document the word “democracy” is always used in concert with the phrase “discipline-flourishing” (and it is used five times). There is no exception to this pattern.

This fact alone tells us a great deal about the constitutional future planned by Burma’s generals.

Update 10 April 2008: The Irrawaddy reports that copies of the constitution are now available in Yangon for 1000 kyat.