The Irrawaddy

State Counselor Emphasizes Need for ‘Collective Strength’ in Speech to Nation

Myanmar State Counselor’s Office

CHIANG MAI, Thailand — In an address to the nation to mark the second anniversary of the NLD-led administration, State Counselor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi said on Monday that her government keeps “in high regard the need for collective strength” to overcome the challenges Myanmar faces internally and internationally.

Daw Aung San Suu Kyi emphasized the need for collective effort and unity, and urged the people “to assist and support” the government in its peace efforts in the country’s ethnic states, including restive Rakhine in western Myanmar.

She specifically called on the nation’s youth to join in the peace effort and acknowledged those young people who are already participating in it.

“I have been deeply heartened by the youths who have been assisting and participating in the work of the Union Enterprise for Humanitarian Assistance Resettlement and Development [UEHRD],” she said.

Daw Aung San Suu Kyi formed the UEHRD in October last year to tackle humanitarian and human rights issues in Rakhine State with shared cooperation between stakeholders, union and local governments and local and international aid organizations.

Following Muslim militant attacks on Myanmar security posts in northern Rakhine state in late August and subsequent military operations in the region by the Tatmadaw, nearly 700,000 Rohingya fled to Bangladesh. The UEHRD is leading repatriation efforts. The government has faced harsh international criticism over its handling of the Rohingya issue.

The state counselor’s speech did not provide any details on how the government would address the challenges posed by the international pressure on the country over the Rohingya issue.

“I am firmly convinced that we can overcome any challenge – no matter how big or difficult – if we can set aside prejudices of organizations and select groups, and work without pointing fingers and if every one of us makes a concerted effort with good will, wisdom and courage,” she said.

“Collective strength is vital to build [the] peace and stability” that Myanmar needs, as well as bringing the strong foundation of mutual understanding and mutual respect in ending the seven-decades-long armed conflicts, she added.

“Let us strive collectively for the emergence of a just and free nation – a nation which will guarantee equal rights and equality, a nation which practices a pure ideology. Not only in Rakhine State, which has received the attention of the world, but in the entire country collectively for security of mind and body.”

As with almost every speech made by Myanmar’s leaders, the State Counselor consistently called on the public to show unity.

Welcoming the State Counselor’s comments, Sai Ngern, a spokesman of the Restoration Council of Shan State (RCSS), agreed that collective effort is the key to achieving genuine peace and building a federal state. The RCSS is a signatory to the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA).

He said there are about “six key stakeholder groups” — the government, the Tatmadaw (Myanmar’s military), the ethnic armed organizations (EAOs), the political parties, civil society organizations and the people – who must share responsibility.

“In doing so [building collective strength], the government needs to open doors across the spectrum for total inclusiveness,” he said, referring to the talks surrounding the NCA. And, he said, there should not be any pre-conditions for negotiations.

Last year, the country’s de facto leader Daw Aung San Suu Kyi said the government stands “together with the people” to reach development, peace and reconciliation in the country. And one year on, it adopted a new slogan, citing the need for “collective strength” to overcome challenges at home and abroad.

Political analysts said questions remain as to how she defines “collective strength.” Sai Nyunt Lwin, a Shan politician, said, “Their definition needs to be correct, and it is important to know with whom she will build strength; whether she wants to work collectively with the ethnic groups to serve the Union, or to build a good relationship with the Tatmadaw to wipe out the EAOs. She said before that it’s time to change, and we thought the political system was going to change, but in reality, they changed themselves. Therefore the right definition is the key.”

The collective strength, “needs to be included in the perspectives of those stakeholders who have differing opinions,” said Dr. Yan Myo Thein, a political analyst. The administration, legislature, the Tatmadaw, the EAOs, the political parties, civil society and the media need to collaborate and not to omit those who have different opinions, he said.

The government also needs to hold regular talks with all stakeholders in the peace negotiations, he added.

Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s speech also pointed out the growth in rice exports last year, the first increase in agriculture production in decades. It is one of the first “economic indices” she has referred to in her speeches. She promised the government “will adopt programs that will bring real benefits to the citizens and… inform the people about our plans as we enter the New Year.” Myanmar celebrates its traditional New Year over the next two weeks during the water festival, or Thingyan.

She assured the nation that she had instructed all of her cabinet ministers “to inform the public” on road and electricity infrastructure development; the healthcare situation, including how “neonatal and maternal mortality rates have fallen”; on economic matters including “how foreign investment is still low; and how high inflation rate remains” as her government seeks to prioritize openness and transparency.

She stressed that to gauge the progress of the country, it is important to know not only the facts and figures, but also “how much real impact these economic indices have had on the socio-economic life of the people.”

Improving people’s quality of life is the first of three main goals the NLD government set for its remaining three years under the leadership of newly sworn-in President U Win Myint.

The state counselor referred to President U Win Myint’s inaugural speech and urged the people to listen and read it if they haven’t done so. This reference to the president’s speech led Dr. Yan Myo Thein, the political analyst, to speculate that Daw Aung San Suu Kyi planned to grant the president more executive powers over the remaining three years of the NLD-led government’s administration.