Opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi said Myanmar continues to make progress on democratic reforms amid setbacks. She told U.S President Barrack Obama, who is in Myanmar as part of his Asian tour, that the process has slowed , but not stopped. She was recently quoted saying that the U.S. had set high expectations for the country’s movement towards democratic reforms. President Obama told her that he understood the obstacles ahead, but was optimistic that the leadership would not roll the country back to military rule.
Speaking at Suu Kyi’s lakeside home in Yangon, President Obama said the country’s leadership needed to offer protection to the Rohingya minority group that has been under attack. Suu Kyi has been criticized for not speaking for the approximately 1.3 million residents who live in the western part of the country. Myanmar’s government considers them to be illegal immigrants who came from Bangla Desh.
President Obama also met with Myanmar’s President Thein Sein. He expressed the need for Myanmar to continue making progress on democratic reforms amid setbacks. He told him that barring Aung San Suu Kyi from running for the country’s presidency in 2015 because her children hold British citizenship does not make sense. A law enacted in 2010 bars convicted criminals from running for office. It also bars anyone married to a foreign national from participating in presidential elections. Suu Kyi does not qualify to vie for the presidency due to these restrictions. She was convicted of allowing an intruder to spend two nights in her house in 2009 when she was under house arrest. She was jailed for 18 months for the offence. She was also married to a British national. It is believed that these laws were put in place at the time to deny her the opportunity to participate in the multi-party elections that had been planned for 2010.
President Obama also spoke to young South East Asian students in a town-hall style meeting at Yangon University. He advised them to appreciate cultural diversity. He challenged them to understand the obstacles faced by minorities. He told them that the future of their countries will not be determined by dictators or armies, but by investors, dreamers, and entrepreneurs.
Aung San Suu Kyi won the Nobel Prize for Peace in 1991. She had lived abroad until 1988 when she returned to Burma-also called Myanmar-to find a country ruled by a dictator whose regime is alleged to have slaughtered those opposed to his rule. She started a nonviolent movement calling for democratic reforms and respect for human rights. As a result, the military government placed her under house arrest for 15 years. The government offered to set her free if she left the country, but she declined the offer, instead preferring to continue with the fight to bring the military rule to an end. She also demanded the release of political prisoners. Throughout the 15-year period, she was continuously harassed by the military government.
Aung San Suu Kyi assured President Obama during the meeting at her lakeside home that she will continue to call upon the government to make progress on democratic reforms amid the current setbacks. She said she was more interested in ensuring fairness for all and in the rule of law than in winning next year’s elections. She said it was better to lose an election than to win the wrong way.
By Benedicto Ateku