Wed 23 Apr 2014
Filed under: DASSK,Inside Burma,Naypyitaw,News
Myanmar’s opposition leader and Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi has warned that the country, despite a spate of reforms hailed by the international community, “is not yet a democracy”.
Speaking in Berlin to accept a human rights award, she said the country formerly called Burma still needs a democratic constitution, true national reconciliation and a change of mindset among its ex-military rulers.
She urged the world to keep a close eye on the government and to ask: “Does it want to go toward a truly democratic union or does it want to go towards an authoritarian state disguised in democratic garb?”
Suu Kyi, 68, was released from years of house arrest in 2010, and a quasi-civilian government led by former general Thein Sein has since pushed reforms that have ended Myanmar’s pariah status, lifted sanctions and sparked an investment boom.
The former political prisoner has entered parliament, and her National League for Democracy (NLD) plans to contest elections next year, hoping to repeat a sweeping 1990 victory that was ignored by the former junta.
However, her desire to seek the presidency remains blocked by a clause specifically designed for her, which bars anyone with a foreign spouse or children from taking the position. Her late husband was a British national.
Suu Kyi pointed out that Myanmar’s constitution also still “gives the military a very special role in the life of our nation”, by guaranteeing its members a quarter of parliamentary seats and therefore political veto power.
“Unless we change the constitution … so-called democratic reform in Burma will be no more than window-dressing,” she said.
- ‘Most sensitive, dangerous time’ -
Suu Kyi was receiving the Willy Brandt Award — the latest in a long line of human rights awards she has picked up since being permitted to travel again in 2012. She also met German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Thursday.
Thanking her international supporters for backing the cause of freedom, she cautioned that “Burma is not yet a democracy. We have been given the chance to build a democratic society, we have not yet built one.
“But because we have been given the chance, because we now have a choice, we are at a most sensitive, most dangerous time in the path of our evolution.”
Referring back to a 1962 coup, the daughter of Burma’s independence hero Aung San said: “People forget that we were under military dictatorship for more than half a century”.
She said she had learnt that Myanmar’s elections commissioner had said that party leaders like her would be confined to campaigning in their own constituencies in 2015 election.
For a true culture of democracy to grow, she said, politicians have to learn to be accountable to the people, adding that: “Just because you change out of military uniform into civilian clothes, it does not mean that your mindset changes automatically.”
Suu Kyi has drawn criticism over the past 18 months for her failure to comment on brutal sectarian violence targeting Muslims in Myanmar, as well as continued military attacks against ethnic minority rebels.
Speaking in Berlin, Suu Kyi said “we have to face the challenges of tensions within our own country — ethnic tensions, communal tensions”.
On the road to national reconciliation, Myanmar’s people have to “cope with our own fears and prejudices”, she said, calling it a harder challenge than resistance to oppression.
“An authoritarian regime not only breeds fear, it narrows our outlook of the world in which we live,” she said.
“After having kept to an extremely narrow path for decades, it is difficult for us to broaden our horizons. We will do it, we can do it, but it will take time.”