Ethnic Rights and Constitutional Change

Ive recently put out a paper on Ethnic Rights and Constitutional Change with the UNSW Working Paper series. This paper explores the provisions of the 2008 Constitution of Myanmar that appear to give some of form of recognition to some ethnic nationalities. I am concerned with why a military regime would grant forms of special recognition to ethnic nationalities in a Constitution drafted under its control. I argue that in Myanmar, the divide between seven states and seven regions is a form of symbolic recognition for a select group of ethnic nationalities. Second, there is a system of special representation at the state and region level for Ministers of National Race Affairs to represent other major ethnic groups in the area. This allows both for fragmentation of ethnic nationality interests and for Burman representation in the ethnic-based states. Third, certain ethnic nationality areas are now recognised as Self-Administrative Zones or Divisions, which I identified as a new form of limited self-governance. The status as a zone was largely a concession to some ethnic nationalities after ceasefire deals in the late 1980s and early 1990s. The implications of all three forms of constitutional recognition, however, is that the Union government retains ultimate control. This demonstrates the way in which authoritarian regimes may include constitutional provisions for special recognition of cultural rights for some ethnic groups as part of the legitimising function of the constitution. Yet the meaning of these rights is dynamic not static, and they must continue to be assessed, over the coming years in order to gauge the impact of these provisions on the shifting nature of central-local relations more broadly. The paper is available here.

School in Pa-O Self Administered Zone, 2013