News / Asia

Expert: Aung San Suu Kyi Breaks Norm on Ethnic Minorities in Parliamentary Plea

Opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi asks a question during a regular session of Burma's parliament, July 25, 2012, in Naypyitaw.Opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi asks a question during a regular session of Burma's parliament, July 25, 2012, in Naypyitaw.
Opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi asks a question during a regular session of Burma's parliament, July 25, 2012, in Naypyitaw.
Opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi asks a question during a regular session of Burma's parliament, July 25, 2012, in Naypyitaw.
Burmese opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi’s appeal to parliament to address the poverty in ethnic minority communities is a “significant departure” from traditional calls for reform, says a noted Burma expert.

Sean Turnell, a professor of economics at Macquarie University in Australia, called Aung San Suu Kyi’s maiden speech to parliament Wednesday “a moment in history” and said using that moment to discuss ethnic minorities was particularly significant.

“If there is one unifying figure, it’s Aung San Suu Kyi. So in some ways, she’s the right person to talk about this particularly intractable problem,” he said.

Aung San Suu Kyi focused on the economic plight of Burma’s ethnic minorities. Quoting an Asian Development Bank report, she said these groups face the worst poverty in the country.

Many of the country’s ethnic minorities have fought the military for more autonomy in a decades-long conflict that has displaced tens of thousands of people. The civilian government that came to power last year reached ceasefire deals with several ethnic rebel groups, but fighting persists in Kachin state and Amnesty International says attacks and human rights abuses against Rohingyas and other Muslims in Rakhine state are increasing.

Turnell says Burma observers often talk about the importance of economic reform in the country, but they generally leave the ethnic minorities out of that equation.

“They are very often off the radar when we look at the big multilateral lenders, when we’re talking about firms going in to invest and so on," he said. "Very often the consideration for the differences and the terrible deprivation that is there for many ethnic minority areas is not just a political one. There’s also an economic dimension."

Many of Burma’s ethnic groups live along the Thai and Chinese borders, key trading areas rich in natural resources. Turnell says by using her parliamentary speech to tackle Burma’s ethnic situation, Aung San Suu Kyi is turning the domestic issue into a global economic one.

“It’s usually just extracting firms move in and ship out gas and oil and gems and teak and all the rest of it, so often leaving chaos and environmental destruction in its wake, for not much benefit. So, in a sense, by drawing attention to the economic problems, some of those issues get a bit of a highlight as well,” he said.

Aung San Suu Kyi long pushed for reform outside the government, advocating change through her National League for Democracy party. Now, after spending years under house arrest, she is joining the political process after being elected to parliament in a rare by-election last April.

Turnell said Aung San Suu Kyi’s presence in parliament makes Burma’s political reforms more legitimate, but the country is still far from being a democracy.

“So, it’s a bit of a gamble for someone like her. But it’s a gamble that I think she thinks is worth taking. It's just pushing the country in a progressive direction towards democracy, but it’s certainly not there yet,” he said. 

Loading timeline...

You May Like

Tired of Waiting, South Africans Demand Change ‘Now’

With chronic poverty and lack of basic services largely fueling recent xenophobic attacks, many in Rainbow Nation say it’s time for government to act More

Challenges Ahead for China's Development Plans in Pakistan

Planned $46 billion in energy and infrastructure investments in Pakistan are aimed at transforming the country into a regional hub for trade and investment More

Audio 'Forbidden City' Revisits Little Known Era of Asian-American Entertainment

Little-known chapter of entertainment history captured in 80s documentary is revisited in new digitally remastered format and book More

This forum has been closed.
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Study: Insecticide Damaging Wild Bee Populationsi
April 24, 2015 10:13 PM
A popular but controversial type of insecticide is damaging important wild bee populations, according to a new study. VOA’s Steve Baragona has more.

Video Study: Insecticide Damaging Wild Bee Populations

A popular but controversial type of insecticide is damaging important wild bee populations, according to a new study. VOA’s Steve Baragona has more.

Video Data Servers Could Heat Private Homes

As every computer owner knows, when their machines run a complex program they get pretty hot. In fact, cooling the processors can be expensive, especially when you're dealing with huge banks of computer servers. But what if that energy could heat private homes? VOA’s George Putic reports that a Dutch energy firm aims to do just that.

Video Cinema That Crosses Borders Showcased at Tribeca Film Festival

Among the nearly 100 feature length films being shown at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival in New York City are more than 20 documentaries and features with international appeal, from a film about a Congolese businessman in China, to documentaries shot in Pakistan and diaspora communities in the U.S., to a poetic look at disaffected South African youth. VOA’s Carolyn Weaver has more.

Video UN Confronts Threat of Young Radicals

The radicalization and recruitment of young people into Islamist extremist groups has become a growing challenge for governments worldwide. On Thursday, the U.N. Security Council heard from experts on the issue, which has become a potent threat to international peace and security. VOA’s Margaret Besheer reports.

Video Growing Numbers of Turks Discover Armenian Ancestry

In a climate of improved tolerance, growing numbers of people in Turkey are discovering their grandmothers were Armenian. Hundreds of thousands of Armenians escaped the mass deportations and slaughter of the early 1900's by forced conversion to Islam. Or, Armenian children were taken in by Turkish families and assimilated. Now their stories are increasingly being heard. Dorian Jones reports from Istanbul that the revelations are viewed as an important step.

Video Migrants Trek Through Western Balkans to Reach EU

Migrants from Africa and other places are finding different routes into the European Union in search of a better life. The Associated Press followed one clandestine group to document their trek through the western Balkans to Hungary. Zlatica Hoke reports that the migrants started using that route about four years ago. Since then, it has become the second-most popular path into Western Europe, after the option of sailing from North Africa to Italy.

Video TIME Magazine Honors Activists, Pioneers Seen as Influential

TIME Magazine has released its list of celebrities, leaders and activists, whom it deems the world’s “most influential” in 2015. VOA's Ramon Taylor reports from New York.

Video US Businesses See Cuba as New Frontier

The Obama administration's opening toward Cuba is giving U.S. companies hope they'll be able to do business in Cuba despite the continuation of the U.S. economic embargo against the communist nation. Some American companies have been able to export some products to Cuba, but the recent lifting of Cuba's terrorism designation could relax other restrictions. As VOA's Daniela Schrier reports, corporate heavy hitters are lining up to head across the Florida Straits - though experts urge caution.

Video Kenya Launches Police Recruitment Drive After Terror Attacks

Kenya launched a major police recruitment drive this week as part of a large-scale effort to boost security following a recent spate of terror attacks. VOA’s Gabe Joselow reports that allegations of corruption in the process are raising old concerns about the integrity of Kenya’s security forces.

Video Japan, China in Race for Asia High-Speed Rail Projects

A lucrative competition is underway in Asia for billions of dollars in high-speed rail projects. Cambodia, India, Indonesia, Malaysia Thailand and Vietnam are among the countries planning to move onto the fast track. They are negotiating with Japan and the upstart Chinese who are locked in a duel to revolutionize transportation across Asia. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman in Bangkok has details.

Video Scientists: Mosquitoes Attracted By Our Genes

Some people always seem to get bitten by mosquitoes more than others. Now, scientists have proved that is really the case - and they say it’s all because of genes. It’s hoped the research might lead to new preventative treatments for diseases like malaria, as Henry Ridgwell reports from London.

Video Bible Museum Coming to Washington DC

Washington is the center of American political power and also home to some of the nation’s most visited museums. A new one that will showcase the Bible has skeptics questioning the motives of its conservative Christian funders. VOA religion correspondent Jerome Socolovsky reports.

Video Armenia and Politics of Word 'Genocide'

A century ago this April, hundreds of thousands of Armenians of the Turkish Ottoman empire were deported and massacred, and their culture erased from their traditional lands. While broadly accepted by the U.N. and at least 20 countries as “genocide”, the United States and Turkey have resisted using that word to describe the atrocities that stretched from 1915 to 1923. But Armenians have never forgotten.

Video Afghan First Lady Pledges No Roll Back on Women's Rights

Afghan First Lady Rula Ghani, named one of Time's 100 Most Influential, says women should take part in talks with Taliban. VOA's Rokhsar Azamee has more from Kabul.

Video New Brain Mapping Techniques Could Ease Chronic Pain

From Boulder, Colorado, Shelley Schlender reports that new methods for mapping pain in the brain are providing validation for chronic pain and might someday guide better treatment.

VOA Blogs