LOIKAW — Opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi used a speech in the Karenni State capital on Saturday to urge her audience to remain vigilant on the issue of amendments to the Burmese Constitution, and said that she will continue to push for change if the government refuses to listen to the will of the people.
The National League for Democracy chairwoman told the crowd that lawmakers would have the opportunity over the coming fortnight to consider amending Article 436 of the Constitution, which requires any further constitutional amendments to have the support of more than 75 percent of the Union Parliament.
At present, the Constitution allocates a quarter of parliamentary seats to members of the Burmese military.
“Let us find out who respects the wishes of the people and who will listen to voice of the people,” Suu Kyi said. “Governments that do not pay respect to the wishes and the voice of the people — how can they build democracy? This is what our people need to consider.”
More than 10,000 people attended the rally in Loikaw, with strong representation from Shan, Karenni, Karen, Lisu and Pa-O ethnic groups in traditional dress. Many members of the audience travelled by car from nearby townships to hear Suu Kyi speak at her first trip to Karenni State since 1989 and her subsequent periods of house arrest.
Suu Kyi travelled from Naypyidaw to address the crowd, apologizing for having to renege on her plans to visit surrounding areas.
“I have had a long trip,” she said. “I could not show up at some places to meet our supporters because I had bad carsickness. The roads are very curved in some places. I wish our road to democracy could be easy, instead of like the dizzying roads around Kayah [Karenni] State.”
With a nationwide election looming at the end of next year, Suu Kyi expressed hopes that the audience would reaffirm the support shown for her party in the 1990 poll, in which the military refused to cede power after an overwhelming NLD victory.
The NLD has ultimately put forward a plan for numerous amendments to the military-drafted 2008 Constitution. There is no indication what, if any, constitutional amendments the current parliament is willing to consider. Suu Kyi said that the NLD’s 46 seats in the Union Parliament gave her party little power to fight and win battles in that arena, but the party remains a strong force outside of parliament because of its support from the people of Burma.
A push by the NLD and 88 Generation activists to amend Article 436 suggests that the party believes removing the effective military veto over Constitutional change is of paramount importance for future battles over amendments.
In recent months the NLD and the 88 Generation Peace and Open Society have collected five million signatures from people in support of amending Article 436.
“By signing the petition for amending Article 436, you have shown your wishes and your courage,” Suu Kyi told the crowd.“The world has been surprised about our ability to collect five million signatures despite the fact that our country is in the middle of a political transition.”
“European Union representatives have told me how surprised they were. Even the European countries, which have strong democracies, would find it very difficult to collect this amount of signatures for a petition. This has shown to the world our desire to have a strong democracy in this country,” she added.
The political situation in Burma has reached an important point, said the opposition leader, and she asked her audience to demonstrate unity by working cooperatively and having the courage to challenge the government when it is wrong.
“To have unity is important,” said Suu Kyi. “No one from the military dictatorship could challenge the unity of the people. Our people have already walked a long road for democracy. If we are strong and united, they cannot frustrate our will for democracy.”
“It is important for the country that our people have the courage to point out when the government is wrong.”
“We want to have stable livelihoods for the people, stability for the country, and we want to have national reconciliation. Even though it takes time by working like this, we will keep doing so because we are on the right track,” she added.