In Person

Myanmar Ruling Party Muslim Candidate Says Political Oppression Makes Her Stronger

By Zarni Mann 24 July 2020

MANDALAY—Daw Win Mya Mya, the current vice chairperson of the Mandalay regional office of the National League for Democracy (NLD), was chosen by the party to compete for a seat in the Lower House of Parliament, representing the Sintkai constituency in Mandalay, in November’s election. The long-time Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and NLD supporter is one of the few Muslim candidates the party is fielding in the election.

The 71-year-old Mandalay woman has dedicated her life to the NLD since its formation in 1988. She is a loyal supporter with a strong heart who faced life-threatening oppression under the military regime, during which she spent most of her days in prison or some form of detention. During the Depayin Massacre in 2003, in which Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s motorcade came under brutal attack by military-backed thugs, both of Daw Win Mya Mya’s arms were shattered. She was detained in Shwe Bo Prison for over eight months. In 2007, she was arrested and sentenced to 12 years in prison for talking to the media about the Saffron Revolution, the uprising of Buddhist monks against the junta.

Daw Win Mya Mya tried to participate in the election in 2015, but she was not selected by the party. Critics said she was not chosen because of her religion. However, this year, she was selected.

The Irrawaddy’s Zarni Mann met with her at her Mandalay home on Friday to discuss her political views.

The Irrawaddy: You were not selected as a candidate in 2015, but in this election, you were selected by the NLD. Was it because you are a Muslim? And why are the NLD leaders only choosing you now?

Daw Win Mya Mya: The party leaders work for the whole country, not for individuals, so they choose the best way for the country. We, the followers, have to follow our leaders and accept the duties they give us. During that time [in 2015], she [Daw Aung San Suu Kyi] told me to work for the party instead of competing in the election and to help the campaign, for which the party needed strong and faithful people. As a follower, I accepted the duties she assigned me and have no feelings about that.

I have to admit Daw Suu did what was best, back in 2015, by not choosing me as a candidate. Her decision prevented political and religious smears during the election campaign period.

Now, our leaders have chosen me because they think this is the right time. I am happy about that, but on the other hand, I feel I need to work harder for the country from Parliament, if the people choose me to be a member of Parliament.

You have been chosen this time, and there is another Muslim NLD candidate from Yangon in the upcoming election. What do you think about that?

We were chosen not because we are Muslims. Our leaders chose us because they believe we will be able to work for the country, as we have dedicated ourselves and are loyal to our party. Our leaders choose candidates based not on religion or race. They choose the person who will work for the country as a whole.

There have been many incidents in which people have used religion and race to stir up communal conflict, especially targeting Muslims. What are your opinions regarding such conflicts? As a Muslim woman politician, have you faced any discrimination?

Personally, I never faced discrimination for being a Muslim. I have only faced oppression because of my political beliefs. But, I am sad to see [incidents of religious conflict], as such actions by persons who incite conflict threaten the peace and stability of the country. There are people who stir up community clashes based on religious and racial differences. However, relative to the whole population of the country, they are very few in number. And nowadays, the majority of people are not so quick to believe such people and their incitements. So, for me, I don’t think about them much and I will walk my path, whatever challenge I face.

If you are elected to Parliament, how will you address these interfaith problems for the future of our country?

The Parliament is trying to enact laws to protect the rights of every citizen and for the rule of law. The parliamentarians are also working hard for the rights of citizens and the rule of law, so that these conflict shall be eliminated one day. Since we’ve faced decades-long problems in every sector, it takes time. When the time comes, all of these problems will be solved in accordance with the law and we will be able to live in peace and our rights will be protected. I am a citizen of Myanmar and my religion is Islam.

Regardless of my religious beliefs, I am a citizen of this country, so I have to work for this country. If God gives me a chance to win in the election and if the people choose me to be a parliamentarian, I will focus on working for the country. I’m already working for the country through the party’s work. If I am chosen, I will be able to work more from the Parliament.

Since I will be able to get more work done for the country from Parliament, these issues will also be included, of course.

I will work equally for all citizens, not focusing on an individual religion or race, but representing all citizens.

Since I joined the NLD in 1988, I have thought not about one religion, but about all citizens.

You have faced much oppression in the past. Your life was in danger and you were even seriously hurt during the Depayin Massacre in 2003, after which you were detained. Your family members were also threatened, you were arrested several times and your family businesses were forced to shut down. But still you stood strong and continued working for the NLD. What inspired you to be such a strong supporter and a loyal member of the NLD?

As soon as Daw Aung San Suu Kyi formed her political party, I joined the NLD believing she could lead us to demolish the military junta and work for our rights, for peace, for life and to lead us to democracy.

During those dark days, the authorities forced us to leave the NLD and give up my political beliefs. They threatened us [she and her siblings] several ways and even spread gossip and rumors. However, I told them you can kill me and all of us, but I will never leave the NLD or give up my political beliefs. They’ve tried many ways to oppress me, threatening my siblings and forcing our shops to close. They even detained my sisters to put pressure on me. We’ve faced many economic hardships. However, my siblings supported me and gave me strength and they stand with me.

And compared to the struggles of our leader [Daw Aung San Suu Kyi], our struggles are nothing. She had to leave her teenage sons, and leave her dying husband, and didn’t leave the country even though he died of cancer. And she had to spend many years under house arrest.

I take strength from Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and always keep in mind that we need to be strong for her and she needs strong followers, for the sake of the country.

I believe and trust that Daw Aung San Suu Kyi will lead the country down the path of genuine democracy. I consider oppression as a source of strength; it has driven me to move forward.

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