News / Asia

Rangoon Diary: Democracy First on Suu Kyi’s Agenda for Burma

Myanmar's pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi displays a placard that reads, "I also love the people," to her supporters at the headquarters of her National League for Democracy Party in Yangon, Burma, 14 November 2010
Myanmar's pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi displays a placard that reads, "I also love the people," to her supporters at the headquarters of her National League for Democracy Party in Yangon, Burma, 14 November 2010

This is a special report from a journalist inside Rangoon, who has been covering Burma’s political developments for VOA despite the threat of deportation. For safety reasons, the journalist’s identity is being withheld. These are the reporter’s notes from the field.

On her first full day of freedom, Burmese opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi wasted no time returning to the political platform that kept her confined for 15 of the past 21 years.

“I understand what the people want,” she told thousands of supporters in Rangoon Sunday.  The crowd chimed in with her together, “It’s democracy!”

Aung San Suu Kyi Exclusive Interview with VOA Burmese:

Speaking outside the headquarters of her party, the National League for Democracy, Aung San Suu Kyi condemned last week’s elections, the first in 20 years.

“Elections should be held in the correct way, and unfair elections do not bring about democracy,” she said. “Democracy does not mean that everybody agrees, but it does mean that you tolerate other people’s opinions.”

Historic Elections

A pro-government party is claiming to have won 80 percent of the seats in the parliamentary elections, which the military regime says is shifting Burma to civilian rule. The opposition and many voters say the election was rigged.

“The people should make their voices heard, nothing can happen without the people’s participation, and we have to try, not just here, but all over the world,” the democracy icon told the crowd.



In the seven years since Aung San Suu Kyi last walked the streets of Burma, the country has changed. Investment from China, Thailand and other Asian nations has brought some disposable income and new technology to the isolated state.

“I see many people are talking on cell phones, which means our country’s telecommunications has improved,” observed the 65-year-old politician. “Use it! Use it to communicate with one another, try to understand each other. People should be frank with the NLD, and approach us with their problems.”

She then held up a sign that read, “I also love the people,” returning the affection that has made her the country’s most beloved figure, even when out of sight. She pointed to one man in the crowd, and he was handed a microphone.

“Now Aung San Suu Kyi has been released, it is time for our release from military dictatorship,” he cried.

Military Rule

Military leaders have ruled Burma since 1962. Although the opposition won an overwhelming victory in the country’s last elections in 1990, the military annulled that vote, keeping a firm grip on power. Few Burmese believe that Aung San Suu Kyi’s release signifies the military’s desire for real change. But they say at least it gives them a platform to begin to demand it.

The Nobel Peace laureate placed little filter on her words. She said the country was controlled by a very small group of people, and that this group of people must in turn be controlled. A spectator said this was impossible because, “they control us with guns.”

Aung San Suu Kyi tried to temper expectations, acknowledging the great amount of work that lies ahead for her and the people in order to build a nation. She stressed the importance of cooperation. Thanking the security personnel who guarded her house during her arrest, she punned that love is not the act of scratching at one another.

National Reconciliation

After her speech, she took questions from local and foreign journalists at the NLD office. The pro-democracy leader called for open political dialogue and peaceful national reconciliation with all groups, including ethnic minority militias fighting the military in the country’s north.

“The problems with violence on the border areas with ethnic groups will not be solved overnight,” she said. “I am very sad that ours is a country where conflict is solved with arms.”

Aung San Suu Kyi also opened a small window into her life of confinement. She said she was able to remain fairly even keeled during her detention by meditating every day.

Although the opposition leader was isolated from her family, friends and colleagues during most of her detention, authorities did grant her rare meetings with senior party members during the past year. During those consultations, the NLD decided not to participate in the November 7 polls because the election rules banned political prisoners from voting, and required the party to expel its own leader.

Aung San Suu Kyi told reporters Sunday that she stood by that decision.

“I do not regret not participating in an election I did not believe in, because I did not believe in the constitution. I did not believe in writing off the 1990 elections, and I did not believe in abandoning our comrades who are in jail,” she said.

When asked how she would navigate the new political landscape, she said she could not even see it because there were, “too many people standing in front of her.”

The Masses

A crowd of several thousand joined Aung San Suu Kyi for her first political speech in nearly a decade. Many held signs that said, “I love Aung San Suu Kyi.” One man held a newspaper, crouching beneath its broadsheets for shade. “I’m sweating too much,” he said. “But it’s worth it, I would not miss ‘The Lady’ for anything.”  An elderly monk was not as lucky. He passed out from the heat, and lay on the hot pavement.

Representatives of the entire diplomatic corps, a group of about 30 people, also joined the event. They met with Aung San Suu Kyi inside the NLD office before she made her speech.

“All the diplomats expressed pleasure at her release and relayed their respective governments’ messages, including countries from the ASEAN grouping,” reported U.S. Charge d’Affaires Larry Dinger, referring to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations. “She said her release was unrestricted, and she was free to travel around the country and internationally but had too much work to do inside the country at the moment.”

Many are concerned that Aung San Suu Kyi could face further detention should she move ahead with her political agenda too quickly, posing a threat to the military government. She dismissed those concerns, saying, “My popularity comes and goes, I do not think they should be threatened.”

As the hot, sweaty crowd disbanded, many were pushed and injured, but the spirit of the group was peaceful, reflecting the spirit of the person they had come to support.

A 48 year-old farmer from the Sagaing region traveled all the way to Rangoon once he heard the news.

“I’m so happy,” he said. “We have been waiting for such a long time.”

on Dipity.

You May Like

China May Be Biggest Winner From Ukraine Crisis

Missile sales, oil and gas shipments are among many areas that may drive Beijing and Moscow closer together in coming years More

Obama Faces a Chaotic World and the Limits of Power

Current foreign policy issues bring into focus challenges for US policymakers who are mindful of Americans' waning appetite for overseas military engagements More

SADC Meeting Lesotho Officials to Resolve Stalemate

Official says regional bloc has been engaged with leaders in Lesotho to resolve political disagreement that led to coup attempt More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
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.
West Africa Ebola Vaccine Trials Possible by Early 2015i
X
Carol Pearson
August 30, 2014 7:14 PM
A U.S. health agency is speeding up clinical trials of a possible vaccine against the deadly Ebola virus that so far has killed more than 1,500 people in West Africa. If successful, the next step would be a larger trial in countries where the outbreak is occurring. VOA's Carol Pearson has more.
Video

Video West Africa Ebola Vaccine Trials Possible by Early 2015

A U.S. health agency is speeding up clinical trials of a possible vaccine against the deadly Ebola virus that so far has killed more than 1,500 people in West Africa. If successful, the next step would be a larger trial in countries where the outbreak is occurring. VOA's Carol Pearson has more.
Video

Video Survivors Commemorate 70th Anniversary of Nazi Liquidation of Jewish Ghetto

When the German Nazi army occupied the Polish city of Lodz in 1939, it marked the beginning of a long nightmare for the Jewish community that once made up one third of the population. Roughly 200,000 people were forced into the Lodz Ghetto. Less than 7,000 survived. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, some survivors gathered at the Union League Club in Chicago on the 70th anniversary of the liquidation of the Lodz Ghetto to remember those who suffered at the hands of the Nazi regime.
Video

Video Cost to Raise Child in US Continues to Rise

The cost of raising a child in the United States continues to rise. In its latest annual report, the U.S. Department of Agriculture says middle income families with a child born in 2013 can expect to spend more than $240,000 before that child turns 18. And sending that child to college more than doubles that amount. VOA’s Deborah Block visited with a couple with one child in Alexandria, Virginia, to learn if the report reflects their lifestyle.
Video

Video Chaotic Afghan Vote Recount Threatens Nation’s Future

Afghanistan’s troubled presidential election continues to be rocked by turmoil as an audit of the ballots drags on. The U.N. says the recount will not be completed before September 10. Observers say repeated disputes and delays are threatening the orderly transfer of power and could have dangerous consequences. VOA correspondent Meredith Buel reports.
Video

Video Ukraine Battles Pro-Russia Rebel Assault

After NATO concluded an emergency meeting to discuss the crisis in eastern Ukraine, the country is struggling to contain heavy fighting near the strategic port of Mariupol, on the Azov Sea. Separatist rebels are trying to capture the city, allegedly with Russian military help, and Ukraine's defense forces are digging in. VOA's Daniel Schearf spoke with analysts about what lies ahead for Ukraine.
Video

Video Growing Business Offers Paint with a Twist of Wine

Two New Orleans area women started a small business seven years ago with one thing in mind: to help their neighbors relieve the stress of coping with a hurricane's aftermath. Today their business, which pairs painting and a little bit of wine, has become one of the fastest growing franchises across the U.S. VOA’s June Soh met the entrepreneurs at their newest franchise location in the Washington suburbs.
Video

Video Ebola Vaccine Trials To Begin Next Week

The National Institutes of Health says it is launching early stage trials of a vaccine to prevent the Ebola virus, which has infected or killed thousands of people across West Africa. The World Health Organization says Ebola could infect more than 20,000 people across the region by the time the outbreak is over. The epidemic has health experts and governments scrambling to prevent more people from becoming infected. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video Asian Bacteria Threatens Florida Orange Trees

Florida's citrus fruit industry is facing a serious threat from a bacteria carried by the Asian insect called psyllid. The widespread infestation again highlights the danger of transferring non-native species to American soil. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Aging Will Reduce Economic Growth Worldwide in Coming Decades

The world is getting older, fast. And as more people retire each year, fewer working-age people will be there to replace them. Bond rating agency Moody’s says that will lead to a decline in household savings; reducing global investments - which in turn, will lead to slower economic growth around the world. But experts say it’s not too late to mitigate the economic impact of the world’s aging populations. Mil Arcega has more.
Video

Video Is West Doing Enough to Tackle Islamic State?

U.S. President Barack Obama has ruled out sending ground troops to Iraq to fight militants of the so-called Islamic State, or ISIS, despite officials in Washington describing the extremist group as the biggest threat the United States has faced in years. Henry Ridgwell reports from London on the growing uncertainty over whether the West’s response to ISIS will be enough to defeat the terrorist threat.
Video

Video Coalition to Fight Islamic State Could Reward Assad

The United States along with European and Mideast allies are considering a broader assault against Islamic State fighters who have spread from Syria into Iraq and risk further destabilizing an already troubled region. But as VOA State Department Correspondent Scott Stearns reports, confronting those militants could end up helping the embattled Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
Video

Video Made in America Socks Get Toehold in Online Fashion Market

Three young entrepreneurs are hoping to revolutionize the high-end sock industry by introducing all-American creations of their own. And they’re doing most of it the old-fashioned way. VOA’s Julie Taboh recently caught up with them to learn what goes into making their one-of-a-kind socks.
Video

Video Americans, Ex-Pats Send Relief Supplies to West Africa

Health organizations from around the world are sending supplies and specialists to the West African countries that are dealing with the worst Ebola outbreak in history. On a smaller scale, ordinary Americans and African expatriates living in the United States are doing the same. VOA's Carol Pearson reports.

AppleAndroid