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This volume is designed to serve as a concise introduction to certain constitutional ideas that may be relevant to Burma. It contains three documents: one essay by Lian Sakhong, and two lectures that I delivered to the SCSC, over several days in November 2003 and August 2004. All three contain common themes. First, sometimes ideas can show us a way through problems that we had thought were impenetrable. Second, Burma’s problems have grown in part from some misunderstandings of certain ideas. In particular, many in Burma have imagined that governance can really occur only at the center: people look to the central government for ideas, initiative, direction, guidance, money, and even permission. They have feared that decentralization (when people look to state and local governments or even just to themselves as citizens) will lead to the breakdown of the social order. In fact, we know that the opposite is generally true: when the center tries to rule without the support and participation of the people, then the people invariably become angry and restless. Even democratic governments–perhaps especially democratic governments–need the people to be actively involved in their own governance, and the only feasible way for most people to govern themselves is at the local level. When the central government seeks to suppress local government, the people may rise up in arms, but when the central government seeks to support local government, the people may feel gratitude and devotion to the union. In other words, democracy and federalism are not in tension. In fact, it is hard to have democracy without also having some kind of federalism. Every well-functioning democratic government tries to empower the people, on a local basis, to take a hand in building their own future.

- David Williams, from the Forward

Publication Date



UNLD Press


Chiang Mai, Thailand


Burma-Politics and government, Constitutional law-Burma, Constitutional Law


Constitutional Law | International Law | Law


Full bibliographic details here.

Online version available at the Online Burma Library.

Paper copy available in the Jerome Hall Law Library, JQ 751.A38 D47 2005

Designing Federalism in Burma