RANGOON — Aung Win used to fight against the government, asking for better policies. Now, he is sitting in Burma’s new Parliament hoping to create better policies.
The 70-year-old politician is a new Lower House lawmaker from Rangoon’s Hmawbi Township, representing the National League for Democracy Party (NLD), which won in a landslide victory against the ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) in November’s election.
The NLD secured almost 80 percent of contested seats in the Union Parliament, which convened on February 8. Lawmakers with unprecedented backgrounds have entered the legislature, including 71 ex-political prisoners.
Aung Win now sits in Parliament wearing pinni suit, a symbol of Burmese independence during both the country’s colonial days and during the NLD’s nearly 30-year struggle against a military regime.
After surviving a tough era of military repression, he is learning to act within a different political scene, he told The Irrawaddy on Wednesday. Burma’s new legislature, he said, represents a “change of political weather.”
“I have to remind myself everyday now to leave all of my political bias. Whoever it is, whatever their political party is, we should only focus on working together for the genuine benefit of the country,” he said.
His sentiments echo calls by NLD chairwoman Aung San Suu Kyi to prioritize national reconciliation.
Aung Win’s ex-military background is not typical within the country’s democratic movement. He attended the Defence Services Academy, graduating from the school’s ninth batch, along with outgoing President Thein Sein and the chairperson of the Union Election Commission, Tin Aye.
People from Aung Win’s town of Hmawbi still call him “Captain,” because it was the last rank he attained during his military service; he has not been a captain for 27 years.
He describes his transformation from soldier to politician during the 1988 student uprising, where he became the leader of a protest group in Hmawbi Township where he was a civil servant recovering from severe injuries he endured on the front line in the army.
For his role in the demonstrations, Aung Win was imprisoned for one and a half years. After his release, he joined the NLD and continued his political activities as a party member.
“I believed our people were right. That’s why I joined the protest against the government in 1988,” he explained during an interview with The Irrawaddy in late October last year while campaigning for the election.
“We suffered a lot of suppression. We fought for this one single goal—the change,” he told The Irrawaddy on Wednesday.
“Now, we are given a chance to implement what we promised during our campaign.”
Another NLD lawmaker, Kyi Moe Naing, from Pegu Division’s Yedashe Township, said that adapting to a new political environment remains an emotional challenge. People put so much hope in the newly elected representatives, he said, but is now realizing that not everything he had wanted to do can be implemented immediately.
“I used to be the one who raised questions to the government,” he said. “But now, I ask questions of myself about what I can do for my people within this 5-year term.”
He was imprisoned from 1991 to 2000 for his involvement in pro-democracy movements.
Aye Win, a lawmaker from Irrawaddy Division’s Ingapu Township, has, like the ex-military MP Aung Win, been a member of the NLD since the party’s formation. He told The Irrawaddy that he is also experiencing new challenges in his role.
“I used to be the one who did party work at the township level,” he explained.
Even though Aye Win is now a political actor in the national arena, he said his original goal to work for the country remains unchanged.
“Our party has assigned me to ‘bigger duties’ to work for our people,” he said.