Students Absent as Parliament Takes Up Education Law

By Nobel Zaw 5 March 2015

RANGOON — Students from the Action Committee for Democratic Education (ACDE) on Thursday failed to attend a parliamentary hearing that they were invited to in order to deliberate amendments to the National Education Law, amid a police blockade of student protestors in Letpadan, Pegu Division.

“Now in Letpadan, the situation between protesting students and police is tense and we don’t want to attend the session today,” said Nan Lin, a member of ACDE. Asked by The Irrawaddy if the ACDE representatives were boycotting the discussions, Nan Lin said they were not.

Nine members of ACDE traveled to Naypyidaw to inform Parliament’s Draft Law Committee that they would not be attending Thursday’s hearing.

Nan Lin insisted the ACDE was not disengaging from the amendment talks, and would continue to monitor the legislative process as well as be open to attending future discussions in Parliament if invited.

The Upper House’s Draft Law Committee was due to being talks over the education legislation on Thursday that are scheduled to conclude on March 15.

The Draft Law Committee will meet with 20 representatives from political parties on Friday, followed by the pro-amendment National Network for Education Reform (NNER) on Saturday and additional stakeholders in the days that follow.

Paing Ye Thu, an ACDE member, said: “The Draft Law Committee at the Upper House told us that they will continue their agenda [as planned].”

The NNER sent a letter to the Upper House on Wednesday saying that “due to the confused situation,” the network was asking that its sit-down with the Draft Law Committee be postponed.

Phyo Phyo Aung, a member of ACDE who is involved in the ongoing sit-in protest at Letpadan, told The Irrawaddy that police had reinforced their blockade there on Thursday.

“We stopped the hunger strike yesterday because of repeated requests from monks and the public, and [because] students are very weak due to the long journey and weather conditions,” Phyo Phyo Aung said on Thursday.

The protest students have been on a march from Mandalay since Jan. 20, and paused at Letpadan in the third week of February. They attempted to resume the march on March 3, but police blockaded the students at a monastery in Letpadan. Negotiations failed to produce an agreement, leading the activists to stage a sit-in protest and hunger strike.

The Rangoon Division Sangha Supreme Council on Thursday issued statements urging monks and protesting students not to try to enter Rangoon amid threats from the government to “take action” if such an attempt is made.

The NNER in its letter this week to Parliament also highlighted an agreement reached at four-party talks last month, in which authorities promised not to charge protesting students and their supporters.

“We strongly urge the government not block, use force, threaten, crack down or press charges against the protest students and their supporters,” the network said.

Zaw Htay, director general of the President’s Office, accused the NNER on Thursday of “high jacking” the student protestors in a bid to challenge Parliament.

Proponents of changes to the National Education Law want guarantees of greater autonomy for learning institutions and the right to form student unions, among other provisions. The ACDE and NNER secured agreement in principle on 11 points of reform with Parliament and the administration of President Thein Sein on Feb. 11.