Kyaw Zwa Moe: Welcome to Dateline Irrawaddy. Recently, National League for Democracy (NLD) leader Daw Aung San Suu Kyi met the elected candidates from her party. At the meeting, she explicitly instructed them to follow the law and the rules to the letter, urged them to stand by people through thick and thin and to set an example. I’ll discuss why she has instructed so with two elected candidates of her party. One is Ma Thet Thet Khine, MP-elect for the Lower House seat of Dagon Township in Rangoon, and the other is Ko Nay Phone Latt, MP-elect for Thingangyun Township in the Rangoon Division Parliament. I’m Kyaw Zwa Moe, editor of The Irrawaddy’s English edition.
We have seen that a lot of people like the speeches of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi. Her speeches get a lot of likes on social media. Her words are clear, unambiguous, and strong, or in other words, seem to be harsh in tone. Why has Daw Aung San Suu Kyi made this choice of words? She told elected candidates: “If you break the law, I will take actions against you according to the law. Don’t ever think that I would have mercy because you are my party member.” Why did she speak so severely to members of her party, Ma Thet Thet Khine?
Thet Thet Khine: Our party won a landslide and is about to become the ruling party. So she would like to set an example in governance. The example needs to be set first in the party so that its good practices will spread throughout society. A behavior will become a habit when repeated. If all the lawmakers could get into such habits, it will become the culture of the party.
KZM: In my view, her words imply strong leadership. I haven’t seen such leadership before in Burma. But under the previous regime, the leadership was strong to the extent that people were subject to oppression. So, does she want to revitalize strong leadership to fix bad culture and bad practices? What do you think, Ko Nay Phone Latt?
Nay Phone Latt: Studying her words that day, the word ‘strong’ is not just enough (to describe her tone). It can also be said that it is smart. She spoke quite strongly in her speech. She said so because it is necessary. We have a duty to take and the duty is quite huge. That duty is completely new to all of us. We have never done this before.
KZM: You have no experience.
NPL: We have no experience. All of us are fresh. The Bogyoke (Gen. Aung San) said: “We all have to work very, very hard.” Yes, we have to work very, very hard. But in so doing, if we happen to take the wrong direction and things go wrong, the people and the country will suffer. So, she needed to speak quite strongly and so she did. But at the end of her speech she asked the MPs-elect not to be afraid by her harsh words. I believe I have seen the signs of strong and smart leadership.
KZM: People also like what Daw Aung San Suu Kyi said to MPs-elect: “Don’t make people annoyed. That fact that people are fed up with you means your political career is done.” How seriously can this be interpreted? Frankly speaking, the previous governments, as well as the Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), did not get the people’s love. She seems to want to change this. How much change can we expect?
TTK: In the past, leaders normally did crowd-pleasing activities to get followers and support. Sometimes, they did things that would win the support of the uninitiated. But Aunty is not like that. I like that Aunty dares to say anything it if it is correct, reasonable and should be done, although she might not like it. This is the quality of a good leader—decisiveness. We won’t do things that everyone will like, but we will enforce discipline to make sure prosperity for everyone.
We have to impose discipline if necessary, for example, a salary cut. People may not like this 100 percent. But, she dares say and do and she will do what she has said. It is exactly the kind of leadership that we need and that people need. She wants to avoid allegations that promises are not being fulfilled and election promises are reneged on during her term. The NLD is about to be a ruling party and she has pushed us at the very starting point to avoid such a situation.
KZM: People have high expectations of the NLD. They have voted for the NLD overwhelmingly and therefore expect something in return. Most people have this feeling. What will MPs-elect do to make people understand the real situation?
TTK: We need to have clear ideas of what can be done in short term, in the medium term, and in the long term. We need to have clear ideas first. If something can be achieved within five years, we would say it could be achieved in five years. If it would take more than five or ten or fifteen or twenty years to achieve something, then we’d say so.
KZM: Daw Aung San Suu Kyi has said that she would set a test. We’ve seen amusing jokes in the form of cartoons and posts on social media about the test. She said the test will focus on two areas—the Constitution and NLD’s election declaration and policies. Have you studied this thoroughly, Ko Nay Phone Latt? Which parts have you read?
NPL: It is a very good thing. It is necessary. It is not that we will get into the parliament as the most suitable and smart lawmakers. In fact, we are not experienced and our capacity is weak. We have to learn while doing. We have to learn and it is a necessity. Aunty has pushed us a lot to learn. The next five years will decide how much we will be able to enhance our capacity.
KZM: Daw Aung San Suu Kyi said she will form candidate examining teams to evaluate the English language skills and performance of MPs-elect. So, it seems that she has detailed plans. So, you will be monitored by candidate examining teams, right?
KZM: It seems to me to be too strict?
TTK: Examining should be looking at (candidates) through the eyes of the people. Examining teams should not take a top-down approach and should not have an arrogant attitude in examining candidates because of their position to give scores for MPs-elect. Instead, they should put themselves in the shoes of the people—as it is the people who have voted for those candidates—and examine if the capacity of the candidate is acceptable. In so doing, a criteria should be adopted first.
KZM: The (examining) committee should define a set of criteria?
TTK: Yes. For example, regarding interpersonal skills, when (elected candidates) get into the parliament, there will be lawmakers from the same party as well as different parties and other relations…how much respect will MPs give to their superiors and how are they disciplined? This is an evaluation of discipline and there will also be evaluation of performance: for example, how many proposals can they submit? Are they able to discuss them in the given time and do they respect the limited time available?
KZM: How much they have studied—
TTK: Yes, how much they have studied. Again, the quality of their discussion. How reasonable is their discussion? Their discussion must reflect the extent of their knowledge as well as the goodwill toward the public for their well-being.
KZM: How much they will be able to serve the interests of people—
KZM: You two will attend parliament in February. I have also visited the parliament since 2012. You can see lawmakers in gaung baung hats, white Burmese jackets and at present most of them are in green longyis. And when they talk, they always address the parliament speaker as “Mr Speaker.” Quite formal. I don’t see intense debate, rather I feel like lawmakers are staging a play. There will be NLD lawmakers as well as ethnic lawmakers in the next parliament. How do you expect the next parliament to be? What do you think is good for the parliament in other words, to better serve the public interest?
NPL: There will be changes compared to the current parliament.
KZM: Do you think lawmakers still have to wear gaung baungs?
NPL: These things have to be changed gradually. There is a question—form or essence? We want to give more focus on essence rather than form. As for me, I don’t want to wear a gaung baung. Under the gaung baung, I feel like my brain will not be fresh.
KZM: You feel it is restricting?
NPL: I think the essence is more important. Shall we try only to look good? We need to think about it. What is the purpose of parliament? Just to look good in front of the cameras or to do meaningful legislation? I would like to put focus on essence rather than form.
KZM: There have been photos that show lawmakers napping and preoccupied with iPads. What measures will you take to avoid this?
TTK: A parliament needs to be dynamic, I think. There should be discussions, listening and debate over different views. There is an English saying, form over substance. We need to be clear about what is important and what not. Wearing a gaung baung or not is a trivial matter to us. There is a point in party’s policy I like very much. It says if candidates have equal capacity, youths, women and ethnic persons will be favored. It has brought us diversity as a result. Among NLD candidates are the young, middle-aged, elderly and increased number of ethnic persons. Again, there is also diversity regarding the professional backgrounds of candidates.
This will be the advantage of the next parliament. The difference between the next and the current parliament is that the next will have diversity. Diversity is our strong point. While a lawmaker is discussing actively after studying the whole night, it is unacceptable that other lawmakers are napping, using iPads, surfing Facebook or the like.
KZM: Ma Thet Thet Khine, Ko Nay Phone Latt, thank you both for your contributions. How much the next parliament in February will be able to serve the interests of people and fulfill the state’s duties, we will have to wait and see.