Suu Kyi Calls on Public to Join Demonstrations for Constitutional Reform

By Zarni Mann 24 March 2014

MANDALAY — National League for Democracy (NLD) leader Aung San Suu Kyi held two rallies in the town of Mogoke, Mandalay Division, over the weekend and called on the public to join nationwide protests in order to demand amendments to Burma’s controversial 2008 Constitution.

“Those who say the Constitution does not need to be amended, and that the country is on a path to democracy, are cheating the people,” Suu Kyi told a crowd of around 3,000 people in the ruby mining town of Mogoke on Saturday evening.

“There are … good point and bad points, which need to be amended. We mustn’t say the whole Constitution is good,” she said.

In recent months, Suu Kyi has become increasingly vocal on the issue and in February she teamed up with the 88 Student Generation leaders in pushing for constitutional reforms through the use of ‘people’s power’ demonstrations.

On Saturday, Suu Kyi said she would continue this popular drive, adding that Burmese citizens should join in and “be brave, and rid themselves of fear in order to create the country they want.”

“I can only depend on people’s power. Amending the Constitution is impossible with just 46 NLD parliamentarians,” she said, referring to the number of seats her opposition party holds in the Union Parliament. On Sunday morning she addressed another rally in the town, before travelling to Pyin Oo Lwin to meet a group of Mandalay writers who boycotted the recent Irrawaddy Literary Festival.

The military-drafted Constitution is widely viewed as being undemocratic as it grants sweeping political powers to the army and because Article 59 (f) prevents National League for Democracy (NLD) leader Suu Kyi from becoming president. The article states that a president’s spouse or children cannot be citizens of a foreign country. Suu Kyi was married to British national Micheal Aris, who died in 1999, and she has two sons who are British subjects.

The NLD leader has repeatedly called for amendments to the charter, but the ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) has shown no sign it will cooperate, despite widespread popular support for such changes.

The past few weeks, demonstrations have been organized in towns and cities across the country, with groups of hundreds or several thousand demonstrators calling for constitutional reform.

Over the weekend, such protests were held in Mandalay, Nyaung Oo near Bagan and in the Sagaing Division towns of Monywa and Depayin. In Rangoon, protests were reportedly held in Tamwe and Dawbon townships.

In Mandalay, about 250 people gathered on Sunday shouting slogans and carrying banners to demand constitutional reforms.

Protestor Zaw Thu said, “Some government officials said that they would consider to amending the Constitution if most people want to amend it. That’s why we just show them how much we are willing to amend this Constitution. We want all of the citizens to join the cause.”

In the towns of Nat Mauk and Magwe authorities banned two demonstrations that were planned this weekend, local organizers said.

Myint Htay, from Nat Mauk, Magwe Division, said an attempt to organize a protest in his home town—which is also the birth place of Suu Kyi’s father, General Aung San—was prevented by local authorities.

“We explained that this event is just to let the government know that we are willing to amend the Constitution. But the authorities said they would refuse the permit as the protest will create unrest,” he said.

Burma’s government has shown signs of concern over Suu Kyi’s plans to demand reform through people’s power. In January, President Thein Sein issued a secret order to all government ministries urging them to take precautions to avoid mass protests or violence caused by disagreements over constitutional reform.