Interview

Tenasserim Chief Minister Lei Lei Maw: ‘We Will Rebuild Our Country’     

By San Yamin Aung 29 March 2016

Lei Lei Maw, a sitting lawmaker in the regional legislature for Tenasserim Division, was appointed chief minister of the division on Monday, becoming one of Burma’s first females to hold the position.

Burma’s state and divisional parliaments this week announced the incoming regional heads, appointed by President-elect Htin Kyaw, and the list included two women—Lei Lei Maw and Karen State’s Nang Khin Htwe Myint. Despite pro-democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi’s prominence in Burma, women have been largely excluded from top political posts in her incoming National League for Democracy (NLD) government.

Lei Lei Maw, 51, is a medical doctor who joined the NLD in 2012 and ran in the November 2015 general election, representing Thayetchaung constituency. The ethnic Karen-Burman, Christian, and mother of four has run a private clinic for more than 20 years and has delivered free health care in remote villages. 

She will succeed the Union Solidarity and Development Party’s (USDP) Myat Ko, who sought re-election in 2015 but was defeated. The ceremonial transfer of power will occur on Wednesday night in Naypyidaw.

The Irrawaddy spoke with Lei Lei Maw following her parliamentary appointment on Monday.

What are the three main things you would like to focus on during your term?

Because we are far away from “Burma proper,” agriculture is not very developed even though there is a lot of land. In order to utilize, manage and develop that land, I would first like to tackle land confiscation cases, in which land that was designated for agriculture was seized by the government, U Paing—the [military-owned] Union of Myanmar Economic Holdings Limited [UMEHL], and other private businessmen.

Second, rule of law must be reinforced in all states and divisions. And third, I will reassess the investments in the Dawei seaport project. If it doesn’t benefit the residents, we have no reason to accept it. As far as I know, there is no environmental conservation plan even though it is a huge project.

What you will do for women in your region?

Because we are near the border with Thailand, many women and girls leave school and migrate across the border to supplement their family income. They are eager to work despite disparagement. I want to empower them and give them better prospects. I hope our sons and daughters will come back home if we can boost small and medium businesses here and offer them job opportunities.

What do you think you can do better or different than your predecessors, as a woman chief minister?

I think I will work more for gender equality, women’s empowerment, health care for mothers and children, and public health. When we say public health, most people think of building hospitals and opening clinics, but this is not effective because most people cannot afford to go to the hospitals. There is a Burmese saying, ‘Prevention is better than cure.’ Burma is bad at raising public health awareness, especially in low-income communities where infectious disease occurs most.

There are currently only three women in the cabinet. Some people say the number of women in government is too low. What do you think?

We need to try to get more women involved. Globally, female presidents are leading countries. We need to create more programs that empower women and train them for that.

Is there anything else that you would like to add?

I believe that people’s lives will improve under Aung San Suu Kyi’s leadership. Following her, we will rebuild our country.

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