Students Rebuffed on Union Demands in Suu Kyi Meeting

By Nobel Zaw 8 June 2015

RANGOON — Student leaders have failed to find common ground with Aung San Suu Kyi following a Sunday meeting to discuss a proposal that would reduce the power of student unions on campus.

Around 60 students, most of them drawn from the Confederation of University Student Unions (CUSU) and the All Burma Federation of Student Unions (ABFSU) met the opposition leader at her Rangoon home on Sunday.

Those present stated their opposition to an April proposal by Lower House NLD lawmaker Zeyar Thaw, during discussions on amendments to the National Education Law, which sought to change the mandated membership of “representatives from student and teacher unions” on the country’s university councils to “student and teacher representatives”.

Zeyar Lwin, a member of the cross-union education reform advocacy group the Action Committee for Democratic Education (ACDE), said that Suu Kyi stood by the lawmaker’s proposal during Sunday’s meeting, while maintaining that she believed student unions were necessary for democratic and education reform.

“She said that she didn’t want people to get more opportunities because of their involvement in student unions,” he said. “She said members of student unions are students, non-members are students and all should get the same chances. We discussed each other’s views and we were not accepting of each other’s views.”

Amendments to the National Education Law are now before the Lower House Draft Law Committee, which has yet to endorse Zeyar Thaw’s amendment.

Zeyar Lwin said that it was the view of CUSU, of which he is also a member, that student union executive committees were elected by popular vote and had a legitimate claim to represent all students.

Though around a quarter of the students at the meeting on Sunday were from the ABFSU, the organization’s central committee issued a statement before the meeting that those attending should not be considered official representatives of the federation. Aung Nay Paing, a member of the ABFSU’s executive, said the federation had decided to boycott due to the ongoing detention of student protesters and a lack of consultation from the NLD on education reform.

“Students are in prison and the freedom of those detained is more important than meeting with Suu Kyi,” he said. “Also, one of the NLD MPs proposed changes to student unions and the NLD didn’t explain this to us, so we believed we should not attend the meeting.”

The issue of the students awaiting trial for their involvement in recent education protests, most of whom were arrested during the Letpadan crackdown on Mar. 10, was not on the agenda of Sunday’s meeting.

Representatives of both the ABFSU and CUSU told The Irrawaddy they were united in their goal for education reform in Burma despite pursuing different tactics.