YANGON—Under the drifting rain clouds and drizzle, it looked just like any other monsoon morning in Yangon. But for the crowd of nearly 1,000 people gathering at Maha Bandoola Park downtown, June 19 marked a special occasion.
At one point, 740 people stood in a rectangular formation, holding down cards, each bearing part of a huge image. When the crowd shouted in unison “Amay Suu, Happy Birthday!” they held aloft their cards, forming a collaborative aerial photo of Myanmar State Counselor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi. She turned 74 on Wednesday.
It was the first time the general public had gathered in downtown Yangon to mark her birthday on such a scale. But it seemed more than just a celebration of her special day. Most of the participants were in T-shirts emblazoned with her picture alongside the words, “I Trust, I Love, I Stand With.” More than 400 miles away in Mandalay, hundreds of cyclists wore T-shirts bearing her picture and the words “We Stand Together With” while biking around the city to celebrate the occasion. Not only NLD members, but well-wishers all across the country celebrated the day. On the occasion of her birthday, people not only offered their birthday wishes to her, but also voiced solidarity with the 74-year-old, whom most of them referred to affectionately as “Amay [Mother] Suu.” In other words, locally, her popular support seems not to have waned as much as some observers think.
It should be noted that people from all walks of life have voluntarily come out to show their support for her when needed. When international pressure against her was mounting—with some foreign institutions stripping her of awards—in late 2017 for her silence on the army’s excessive use of force on Rohingya in Rakhine State, people across the country took it as an insult to her. When she made a diplomatic address on Rakhine State in September, thousands of people gathered in downtown Yangon and other cities to show their solidarity with Daw Aung San Suu Kyi.
This time it coincided with her party’s recent announcement that she would contest in the upcoming general election. Furthermore, she is now facing serious resistance, especially from Buddhist nationalists and political opponents, while her government’s recent attempt to amend the military-drafted Constitution has run into challenges from the military, which has complained that the NLD’s approach to amending the charter is unconstitutional.
Not surprisingly, her supporters across the country have been following these developments. So they gathered on June 19 not only to say “Happy Birthday, Mother Suu”, but also to show that they are still “Standing together” with her as their birthday present.
Not everyone, even among her supporters, is pleased with the progress the NLD has made. Some complain about incapable ministers and high-ranking officials with old-fashioned bureaucratic attitudes, slowing economic growth and the stalled peace process with ethnic armed groups. Nonetheless, even critics say they don’t see any rival to Daw Aung San Suu Kyi when it comes to her willingness to sacrifice and her passion for the development of the country.
“There are some points I don’t like about the NLD government. But I don’t see anyone else filling her shoes. All I pray for is her success in the coming election to enable her to work for five more years,” said a rain-soaked participant at Maha Bandoola Park in Yangon.
Some acknowledged the NLD’s government’s slow progress.
But one participant countered this by saying, “But when you are making a change, it won’t happen overnight. The [NLD] government is also facing obstacles and resistance [from some who are loyal to the previous military regime].”
On Wednesday, the State Counselor’s Office posted a thank-you message for all the birthday wishes and presents.
In the message, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s said that while it wasn’t possible for her to personally thank everyone who sent her birthday wishes and presents, she could feel their loving kindness for her, adding that she believes every wish made out of love is effective.
“It wouldn’t be wrong to say that I am kept alive by such huge popular support and people’s loving kindness,” she said.
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