Westminster Foundation for Democracy is committed to supporting the consolidation of democracy in Burma at both the national and regional level. Whilst our programme (in partnership with the UK House of Commons) with the Hluttaw in Naypidaw goes from strength to strength, our team in Burma looks to develop a complementary programme at the State and Regional level.
To ensure the programme delivers local government in line with citizens’ expectations and as outlined in the 2008 constitution, the team conducted a scoping visit to two States and two Regions earlier this year to determine how WFD can support the respective Hluttaws as they too develop their institutional capacity.
Although logistics and time did not enable the team to visit all 14 States and Regions the team were exposed to a range of different contexts and challenges. WFD was warmly welcomed in Sagaing and Magwe Regions, and the States of Kayah and Shan, all of which present a unique context for delivering parliamentary support.
Applying context to programme development
Sagaing is the largest of seven regions, located in the north-west part of the country which is predominantly ethnic Burman, but other minorities such as Zomi and Naga (forming the Naga Self-Administered Zone) reside within the region. It is also the second largest sub-national parliament in Burma after Shan.
Magway is the second largest of the seven regions and though part of central Burma, it is considered remote due to the lack of good transportation. The population is majority Burman with very small numbers of ethnic minorities such as Chin, Rakhine, Karen, Shan and Anglo-Burmese. Shan State, which covers roughly a quarter of the country’s territory, with the largest Hluttaw in Burma is also the most politically complex.
The Shan people are Burma’s biggest ethnic minority, but the growth of other minorities has led to the creation of 4 Self- Administered Zones which provide a certain amount of autonomy for the Danu, Pa-O, Kokang, Pa Laung, and the Wa people. Although small and mountainous Kayah State is no less complex with a number of different ethnic groups although the Karenni are the largest.
The programme will ensure an inclusive approach so that the interests of each ethnic group are represented within the Regional or State Hluttaw and also how in turn these Hluttaws interact with the national legislature in Naypidaw to deliver real change for citizens across Burma.
Next steps for developing the sub-national programme
WFD’s planned involvement with the States and Regional Hluttaws meets the needs of the changing circumstances in Burma as they adapt to the new political dispensation. The process of providing for Regional and State Hluttaws goes back to the 2008 Constitution that allocates a considerable amount of responsibility in the provision of services as well as in economic development, tourism and the environment to the state and regional level.
As new institutions, with newly elected Members, WFD wants to support the Hluttaws to fulfil their responsibilities. WFD will work closely with the Union Parliament, with which WFD signed an MoU in November 2016. Using the full breadth of the UK democratic experience, including the process of devolution, we work closely with the devolved legislatures in Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales to support countries transitioning to democracy. This experience has been utilised in our work with sub-national assemblies in Iraq, Kenya and Pakistan and we hope to bring the same experience to the programme in Burma.