What Do People Expect From President Obama’s Burma Visit?

By Zarni Mann 6 November 2014

RANGOON — US President Barack Obama will travel to Naypyidaw for the 25th Asean Summit on Nov. 12-14. Two years ago, Obama used his time in Burma to express concerns over the country’s political transition, and urged President Thein Sein to release political prisoners and expedite the peace process. Speaking to The Irrawaddy, politicians, civil society leaders and activists discuss their hopes and expectations for the US president’s second trip to Burma.
Aung Myo Min, director, Equality Myanmar

President Obama must learn the lessons from his first trip, and I hope he will not just talk, but act. There are instances in our country where things are worse than the last time he visited—like the death of Ko Par Gyi, a freelance journalist, which demonstrates the lack of rule of law. The ongoing conflicts in ethnic areas and the arrests of activists involved in acts of peaceful assembly are shameful cases for the country and go against the reality described by the Burmese government. I want to know where the United States stands on these matters.

President Obama should discuss openly how the US government will react to basic human right abuses, and he also needs to act according to what he says. In its relationship to Burma, the US government is always putting friendship with the Burmese government first, and action against human rights abuses afterward.

We would like to urge President Obama and the US government to put more pressure on the Burmese government to stop human rights abuses and to take serious action.

Ko JimmyJimmy, 88 Generation student leader

President Obama and the US government should put more pressure on the Burmese government in the field of both diplomatic ties and the transition of the country. Although the government is not listening to us, we need to keep pushing them for change.

Khon JaKhon Ja, coordinator, Kachin Peace Network

We have nothing to expect from President Obama, because there’s only been a few changes in our country since his last visit. For example, he urged the release of all political prisoners, but many still remain behind bars. The government is still arresting activists and charging them with the Peaceful Assembly Law. And the conflicts in the ethnic areas are still happening. People are still struggling to leave their homes for fear of their safety in Kachin State.

D Nyein Lin, president of the organizing committee for the Federation of Student Unions

We would like to urge President Obama to speak out more about the country’s education sector. The reopening of Rangoon and Mandalay universities are some of the most significant changes since his first visit to the country. But these changes are so far just cosmetic and can’t yet be said to benefit the futures of our students.D Nyein Lin

President Obama should place serious pressure on the government over the changes to the education sector, as well as agitating for the peace process and amendments to the Constitution.

We want him to speak out on behalf of the students who have no proper assurance for the future of their education. Only the few students who live in Rangoon and Mandalay have access to higher education. For those who live in the other states and divisions, they have no such opportunity. Since students are the future leaders of the country, we want President Obama to put more pressure on the Burmese government to stop the oppression of students as well.

Hla Swe, Upper House MP, Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP)

Obama’s visit will help the democratization of the country, and I hope he will give a positive opinion on the participation of all political parties and all of the ethnic arms groups in the transition period. I hope he will discuss the peace process in the country as well. I am also confident that the next president of the United States will respect President Obama’s words, and they will carry on with his work.U hla Swe New copy

Some American investors believe that they could only invest in the country when the NLD [National League for Democracy] is in power. However, I’m sure that the USDP will win the 2015 election. So, I would like to invite the American investors to invest here right now, before it’s too late.

I think the US government will put more of us from the USDP on the sanctions list before the 2015 election [following the sanctions leveled against USDP lawmaker Aung Thaung], as they don’t have much favor for our party.

Thein NyuntThein Nyunt, Lower House MP, New National Democracy Party

I think the transition of our country will continue as it has. The visit of President Obama for the second time will be just the monitoring of the process. On the other hand, I hope there will be technical and financial support for the development of the country in various sectors.

Since the United States has repeated that they are supporting the democratization and the development of the country, the same thing will be said by President Obama.

Although President Obama’s words are not affecting much change in our country, we still hope that President Obama will speak up for the sake of ethnic people, especially those who live in conflict-ridden areas.

We also want to tell President Obama to put more emphasis on amendments to the Constitution, which will be vital for the country’s future peace and stability.

Hla Maung Shwe, senior advisor, Myanmar Peace Center

In the peace process and to build the democratic system in a country, the most responsible person is the citizen. There will be no peace, change or development if there’s no willingness from each of us.

Sandar MinSandar Min, Lower House MP, National League for Democracy (NLD)

The previous pressure from the US government and President Obama was in vain. The examples from the past show that our country will not change without the willingness of the government to change. Recently, the state government blacklisted Aung Thaung, but I don’t think it will precipitate change in the country, and I do not hold out hope that President Obama’s visit will bring about any wider change in the country.

Yan Myo Thein, independent political commentator

President Obama should seriously express concerns over the current composition of the Constitution and the peace process of the country, which are the major issues for the country’s transition. He also should seek to abolish the Unlawful Association Act [a military-era law used to prosecute anyone linked with insurgents or ethnic armies], a barrier to national reconciliation and the peace process.

President Obama would have met many members of the Burmese government to discuss many issues. He also needs to give his time and listen to voices from nongovernmental civil society organizations and individuals who are working for the freedom, peace and development of the country.

Sai Sao Than Myint, second vice president, Federal Union Party

I would like to urge President Obama to put more pressure on the Burmese government for peace. If there’s no peace and stability in the country, there will be no development in other sectors. I believe that peace is the most important priority

I would also like to urge President Obama not to see only a positive view on the transition of the country but also to look for the oppression faced by activists. There are many land rights activists still being arrested and charged. There’s no policy yet to protect the farmers from having their land confiscated, or from being arrested for demanding back their land. If President Obama really wants to see Burma as a genuine democratic country, he should spend more time listening to the voices of the people of Burma.