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

At International AIDS Conference One Goal, Many Paths

The 12,000 delegates attending 20th International AIDS Conference in Melbourne have vastly different visions about how to eradicate disease More

Disasters May Doom Malaysia’s Flag Carrier

Even before loss of two jets loaded with passengers on international flights, company had been operating in red for three years, accumulating deficit of $1.3 billion More

Afghan Presidential Vote Audit Continues Despite Glitches

Process has been marred by walkouts by representatives of two competing candidates, Abdullah Abdullah and Ashraf Ghani 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.
Nature of Space Exploration Enters New Agei
X
Elizabeth Lee
July 20, 2014 2:36 AM
Forty-five years ago this month, the first humans walked on the moon. It was during an era of the space race between the United States and the Soviet Union. World politics have changed since then and -- as Elizabeth Lee reports -- so has the nature of space exploration.
Video

Video Nature of Space Exploration Enters New Age

Forty-five years ago this month, the first humans walked on the moon. It was during an era of the space race between the United States and the Soviet Union. World politics have changed since then and -- as Elizabeth Lee reports -- so has the nature of space exploration.
Video

Video Chicago’s Argonne Lab Developing Battery of the Future

In 2012, the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Science awarded a $120 million grant to a new technology center focused on battery development - headquartered at Argonne National Laboratory in suburban Chicago, Illinois. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, there scientists are making the next technological breakthroughs in energy storage.
Video

Video In NW Pakistan, Army Offensive Causes Massive Number of Displaced

Pakistan’s army offensive in North Waziristan has resulted in the large-scale displacement of the local population. VOA's Ayaz Gul reports from northwest Pakistan where authorities say around 80 percent of the estimated 1 million internally displaced persons [IDPs] have settled in Bannu district, while much of the remaining 20 percent are scattered in nearby cities.
Video

Video Kurdish Peshmerga Force Secures Kirkuk, Its Oil

The Kurdistan regional government has sent its Peshmerga troops into the adjacent province of Kirkuk to drive out insurgents, and to secure the area's rich oil fields. By doing this, the regional government has added a fourth province to the three it officially controls. The oil also provides revenue that could make an independent Kurdistan economically strong. VOA’s Jeffrey Young went out with the Peshmerga and filed this report.
Video

Video Malaysia Reeling: Second Air Disaster in Four Months

Malaysia is reeling from the second air disaster in four months involving the country’s flag carrier. Flight 340 vanished in March and despite an extensive search, no debris has been found. And on Thursday, Flight 17, likely hit by a surface-to-air missile, came apart over eastern Ukraine. The two incidents together have left more than 500 people dead. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from Kuala Lumpur.
Video

Video Diplomatic Crisis Grows Over MH17 Plane Crash

The Malaysia Airlines crash in eastern Ukraine is drawing reaction from leaders around the world. With suspicions growing that a surface-to-air missile shot down the aircraft, there are increasing tensions in the international community over who is to blame. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.
Video

Video Undocumented Immigrants Face Perilous Journey to US, No Guarantees

Every day, hundreds of undocumented immigrants from Central America attempt the arduous journey through Mexico and turn themselves over to U.S. border patrol -- with the hope that they will not be turned away. But the dangers they face along the way are many, and as Ramon Taylor reports from the Rio Grande Valley in Texas, their fate rests on more than just the reception they get at the US border.
Video

Video Scientists Create Blackest Material Ever

Of all the black things in the universe only the infamous "black holes" are so black that not even a tiny amount of light can bounce back. But scientists have managed to create material almost as black, and it has enormous potential use. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Fog Collector Transforming Maasai Water Harvesting in Kenya

The Maasai people of Kenya are known for their cattle-herding, nomadic lifestyle. But it's an existence that depends on access to adequate water for their herds and flocks. Lenny Ruvaga reports for VOA, on a "fog collector."

AppleAndroid