US ‘Too Optimistic’ About Burma Reform: Suu Kyi

By Kyaw Phyo Tha 5 November 2014

RANGOON — Opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi on Wednesday reiterated her position that democratic reforms in Burma have stalled since early 2013 and she called on the United States government to “seriously think” about the lack of democratic progress in the country.

“We do think that there have been times when the US government has been too optimistic about the reform process started by the present government, but if they really studied the situation in this country they will know that this reform process started stalling early last year,” the National League for Democracy (NLD) leader said during an hour-long press conference in Rangoon.

“In fact, I’d like to challenge those who talk so much about the reform process, and want ask what significant reform steps have been taken in the last 24 months?” she said, adding, “That is something the US should think about seriously as a country.”

The remarks by the highly popular leader come ahead of next week’s visit by President Obama to Burma, where he will attend the Association of Southeast Asian Nations and East Asia summits, as well as meet with President Thein Sein and Suu Kyi.

A news report by Reuters on Wednesday quoted senior US government officials as saying that Obama would not urge the Burmese government to amend a constitutional article that blocks Suu Kyi from the presidency.

Obama made a historic visit to Burma in November 2012, when he called Suu Kyi an “icon of democracy” and met with Thein Sein, who pledged to implement a range of measures to deepen democracy and protect human rights.

Since then, the actions by Thein Sein’s reformist government have offered mixed results. Suu Kyi’s push for changes to the military-drafted Constitution this year has run into opposition from the government and the military. The charter prevents anyone with a foreign spouse or children from becoming president, effectively blocking Suu Kyi from the post—even if her party wins next year’s elections—because she has two sons who are British nationals.

The Constitution also gives political powers to the Burma Army, such as direct control over a quarter of Parliament.

Since 2012, Thein Sein’s administration has done little to solve the Arakan State crisis, while the Kachin conflict continues to fester. The past year has also saw significant backsliding on media freedom and human rights.

Last week, the government suddenly called a high-level roundtable meeting in Naypyidaw with Suu Kyi, the president, Union Parliament Speaker Shwe Mann, the Burma Amy Commander-in-Chief Min Aung Hlaing and senior Union Solidarity and Development Party members, as well opposition ethnic MPs.

In the months before, Suu Kyi’s pleas for a meeting with Thein Sein, Shwe Mann and Snr-Gen Min Aung Hlaing to discuss constitutional reforms were ignored.

On Wednesday, the NLD leader said last week’s meeting had yielded no concrete agreements whatsoever, but she still welcomed it as a possible first step to more discussions on reforms and political agreement.

“Having a meeting is better than not having any. If the meeting could lead to the four-party meeting we have been asking for since early 2013, then I have to welcome it,” she said.

Suu Kyi became a lawmaker following by-elections in April 2012 that granted her party 40 seats. This provided her with a small foothold in the USDP-dominated Parliament, but gave her little influence over government actions and lawmaking. Several parliamentary committees were formed to study constitutional reform, but no significant progress has been made on key articles.

Asked by The Irrawaddy if she was being used by government leaders to give legitimacy to the reform process without her party affecting real change, Suu Kyi said, “No, I don’t think so. I just do what I want to do,” she said.

“We have been able to make collaborations in Parliament,” she said, before adding, “But make no mistake: A democratic reform would not be successful alone with the Parliament. We need collaboration from the government as well—and the army should join, especially in this country.”

The NLD leader also briefly touched upon other issues. She said that she had plans to make an official visit to China as it had been reported, but said the plan was still awaiting confirmation.

When asked about the high-profile murder of local journalist Aung Kyaw Naing, also known as Par Gyi, by the Burma Army last month, Suu Kyi only referred to the National Human Rights Commission, which has been ordered to investigate his death.

“It’s a legal matter and it’s related to a fair judiciary system,” she said. “Like other countries, our [rights] committee is looking into it.”