This is the true story of a father and a daughter, both members of the National League for Democracy (NLD), whose commitment to the anti-junta struggle forced them to go into hiding and separate, never to see each other again.
“Don’t leave Daw Suu just like that and return. Do whatever you should there, no matter what they threaten,” U Ngwe Myint, a staunch fellow party member of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, told his daughter, who was in the capital Naypyitaw, right after mobile phone services were restored on the afternoon of Feb. 1, a few hours after the military staged a coup.
Knowing her father well, Myat Thida Htun was not surprised at what he told her in the dangerous situation. Like her father, she was determined to take any risk in defiance of the military, which has put the country back under a dictatorship.
On the morning of Feb. 1, the day the new parliament was set to begin, the military forcibly took over all legislative, executive and judicial powers after detaining the country’s de facto leader Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and removing her from her residence in Naypyitaw.
Other elected leaders and government officials were also among those arrested in the early morning raids. During their military operation, telephone and internet services were cut off.
Myat Thida Htun, 40, arrived in Naypyitaw just days before the coup for the opening of the new Union Parliament (the bicameral body made up of the Upper House and Lower House) to which she was reelected representing an Upper House constituency in Thanbyuzayat Township, Mon State, under the NLD led by Daw Aung San Suu Kyi. The NLD won a landslide victory in the 2020 general election, the results of which were later annulled by the military.
Far from taking up the seats to which they were elected, Myat Thida Htun and some 400 other winning candidates—62 percent of them from the NLD and the remainder from other political parties—were confined in their living quarters in Naypyitaw, guarded by soldiers. Later the military warned the elected members to vacate the place.
Myat Thida Htun chose to remain there as long as she could in an act of disobedience against the military. And on Feb. 4, she and around 70 other elected members of the NLD who remained in the complex grabbed the chance to hold their own swearing-in ceremony as parliamentarians. Those who had already returned home took their oaths online.
Following the ceremony, more than 300 NLD lawmakers elected to the coup-dissolved parliament appointed the 17-member Committee Representing Pyidaungsu Hluttaw (CRPH) to conduct the regular functions of the Union Parliament to counter military rule.
“There was no need to think twice about whether to get involved in the committee to carry out the mandate bestowed by the people,” Myat Thida Htun said.
Last year’s electoral win was her second; after joining the NLD in 2012 she ran in the 2015 general election and won in the same constituency. She previously worked as a public servant for eight years, and from 2009 until joining the NLD, she also worked as a lawyer.
As a member of the CRPH, an arrest warrant was issued for her by the junta and she was forced to go on the run.
Returning from Naypyitaw to her constituency in Mon State, the MP only had a few days to meet her father before they were separated. At that time, U Ngwe Myint was taking part in street protests against the regime in Mon State all day long—despite his family telling him to take a break in the hottest hours—and helping protesters and striking civil servants.
A father’s fight against dictatorship
The 77-year-old U Ngwe Myint, a retired law officer, joined the NLD in 2012 when the party re-registered to enter the by-elections of that year after it boycotted the 2010 election, which was widely perceived as rigged. Later he became the secretary of the party’s executive committee in Mon State.
He was formerly a sergeant clerk in an army base inside the Mandalay Palace compound but resigned from his post 37 years ago to start his new career as a law officer.
He was rewarded with two awards through his law career in recognition of his good works serving the people. He was also renowned among his fellow NLD members for his devotion to the party.
As a man who had lived through the military coups in 1962 and 1988 and iron-fisted military rule, U Ngwe Myint wanted to free his beloved nation from military dictatorship.
“He doesn’t want the younger generations to face the same sufferings [his generation] did, and wants to free the country from military dictatorship. He wants to see the country become a developed one,” Myat Thida Htun said.
Soon after the coup, due to his political opposition to the military takeover, U Ngwe Myint also had to go into hiding like other members of the party who refused to bow to the junta’s demands not to have anything to do with the anti-regime movement,.
By the time her father was forced to flee to the jungle, Myat Thida Htun had already been separated from her family. She had cut off contact with the family and gone into hiding.
The junta issued arrest warrants for CRPH members, charging them with incitement and high treason, which carries up to life imprisonment. It also declared the CRPH and the parallel government, set up by the committee, as terrorist groups and warned of prosecution against anyone affiliated with the groups.
She only knew about her father fleeing to a jungle under the control of an ethnic armed organization through other party members.
In different locations, the father and daughter continued their anti-regime activities.
After five months of separation, the two made contact again over the phone in July, in what would turn out to be their last conversation. The signal was poor. As they briefly chatted, finding out how his daughter was doing and sharing their conditions wasn’t his first concern.
His priority was how to get enough food for the young people who had fled to the jungle to undergo military training and the “hows” of toppling the junta.
“He asked me to help the young people who were with him. And discussed ways based on his experience of taking down the regime, saying ‘Please share them with the leaders.”
By that time, his health was failing. After months of surviving with poor food and shelter, U Ngwe Myint’s condition deteriorated; with his diabetes exacerbated by the lack of a balanced diet and the stress of dealing with the country’s crisis, he finally left his beloved leaders and country on Aug. 8.
Losing a comrade amid the unfinished struggle for democracy
To Myat Thida Htun, U Ngwe Myint was not just a father, he was also a political comrade. After pursuing a law career just like him, it was her father who pushed her to get into politics and join the NLD, she said.
Being a strict and disciplined father, U Ngwe Myint didn’t get very close to his children, including the youngest, Myat Thida Htun. However, since her entry into politics, the two had talked more and shared memories.
“While it is true that we want to root out the military dictatorship for the next generations, the older generations like my father’s had to live almost entire their lives under repressive military regimes and died before they could get to taste full democracy and enjoy human rights. I feel really saddened by that,” Myat Thida Htun said.
However, the NLD MP-elect and CRPH member said she has been helped through her grief by the sacrifices of other comrades and the determination of young people to give their lives for the people in the fight against the regime, adding that this drives her to continue the fight until victory is achieved.
“I feel we have a responsibility to those who lost their lives to continue to reach the goal that they couldn’t reach, on their behalf.”
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