Democratic Transition Requires a Democratic Constitution, Suu Kyi Says

By Nyein Nyein 21 August 2018

CHIANG MAI, Thailand—State Counselor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi on Tuesday reiterated her government’s intention to amend the Constitution without damaging the national reconciliation process, and stressed the importance of building peace — including in conflict-torn Rakhine State — and promoting economic development.

Daw Aung San Suu Kyi made the comments while delivering the 43rd Singapore Lecture, “Myanmar’s Democratic Transition: Challenges and the Way Forward” at the Institute of South East Asia Studies’ Yusof Ishak Institute in the city-state on Tuesday. She is on a four-day state visit to Singapore this week.

Her lecture covered a wide range of topics including the various phases of Myanmar’s history since independence, the roadmap to the current democratic transition; the 21st-Century Panglong peace process; the situation in Rakhine State; and the country’s economic development.

“[Amending] the Constitution was one of the goals of our government. This is something that we need to mention here, because the completion of a democratic transition must necessarily involve the completion of a truly democratic constitution. This we have not yet achieved, but we aim to achieve it through negotiation and through evolution,” she said in her concluding remarks.

She added that there are “parts of the Constitution which we believe would have to be amended if we are truly to be a democratic society. But we also made it quite clear [since her time as a legislator from 2012-15] that these changes we will bring about through negotiation, always keeping in mind that national reconciliation is one of our greatest needs.”

Reflecting on Myanmar’s seven-decade-long civil war and intercommunal conflicts, she said, “Our people yearn for peace and security, for an end to unrest and strife, for material and emotional security, for a chance to contemplate the future of their children with tranquility.”

She added that, “A sound base for peace and stability has to be broad and comprehensive. Addressing destabilizing issues in Rakhine State was a fundamental part” of building peace and stability, which she described as one of the three pillars that support the Myanmar Sustainable Development Plan.

She listed the steps taken by her National League for Democracy-led government to resolve the crisis in Rakhine State, including forming the national-level Central Committee for Rule of Law and Development in Rakhine State; the Advisory Commission led by the late Kofi Anan, a former UN secretary-general; the Rakhine Advisory Board; and the Independent Commission of Enquiry, in addition to a number of government implementation bodies. She also acknowledged the role of UN agencies and expressed confidence that Myanmar’s engagement with Ambassador Christine Burgener, the Special Envoy of the UN Secretary-General to Myanmar, “will be positive and fruitful.”

“We share deep sympathy and concern for all displaced persons, especially women and children,” the State Counselor added, though she was careful not to use specific labels, whether religious or ethnic, in reference to the displaced persons.

Regarding the safe return of refugees from Myanmar currently residing in Thailand, she said, “The return of displaced persons [from Thailand] to our country is also working smoothly as a result of close consultation and cooperation between Myanmar and Thailand.”

“Similarly, we hope to work with Bangladesh to effect the voluntary, safe and dignified return of displaced persons from northern Rakhine,” she added. The State Counselor appeared to be comparing previous challenges faced by the government in terms of repatriating refugees to the situation facing the displaced persons in Bangladesh refugee camps, who lack the documentation necessary for repatriation.

Myanmar and Bangladesh have been cooperating at the ministerial level on facilitating refugee repatriation, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi said, adding, “The Bangladeshi Foreign Minister was invited to Myanmar to see at first hand preparations we have made for the resettlement of returnees. During his visit [last week], both sides agreed, inter alia, to deliver on commitments made, to speed up implementation of bilateral agreements on repatriation, and to set up a hotline between the two countries at the ministerial level.”

With regard to the ongoing peace-building process in Myanmar, she insisted that the 21st-Century Panglong Peace Conference had “made progress,” citing the signing of parts of the Union accords in which 51 basic principles for a future democratic constitution were laid out at two conferences held last year and this year. Among the NLD’s achievements in this arena, she said, was having two more ethnic armed organizations sign the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement.

The State Counselor added, “We are constantly alert to the challenges and we aim to resolve them through dialogue and negotiation, by persevering in the endeavor to build mutual trust and understanding.”

She urged each and every individual to “learn to talk to one another and also to listen to one another” so that the country could move forward, and to respect diversity, pointing out that Myanmar comprises some 135 ethnic groups.

She also urged ASEAN members and the international community as a whole “to listen with understanding, listen with empathy, listen by putting yourselves in our places, not the place of the government, but in the place of our ordinary people, of the citizens.”

She continued, “If you listen with their ears and you try to see with their eyes, you will have a better idea of what the real challenges of our transition are. They are not just the challenges the world sees, but the challenges [that] each and every one of our people sees for himself or herself.”

On the economic front, she said, “The future remains bright” because Myanmar and Singapore are working together to promote trade through a bilateral investment treaty. In 2017, foreign investment in Myanmar reached USD8 billion, with more than half of that coming from Singapore.

She also said that, second only to the developments in Rakhine State following the attacks on government security posts by the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army in 2016 and 2017, when it comes to Myanmar, the outside world’s main focus is on foreign direct investment.

“We place high importance on investment but within the context of our wider needs. We want Myanmar to be business-friendly, an environment where investors can be comfortable and secure and where their interests can merge harmoniously with our development aims,” she said.

Daw Aung San Suu Kyi has been in Singapore since Aug. 19 at the invitation of Prime Minister Lee Hsein Loong. On Aug. 20, she visited the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy. This is her third official visit to Singapore. Her most recent previous visit was in November 2016.