KACHIN STATE — You can crunch the numbers, listen to the pundits and debate the credibility of the historic Nov. 8 general election all you want, but to join Aung San Suu Kyi on a four-day barnstorming campaign across Kachin State is to experience first-hand the political and social phenomenon that is the woman who leads Burma’s largest opposition party.
Flying into the Kachin State capital Myitkyina early on Friday, the National League for Democracy (NLD) chairwoman hit the ground running, with both a morning rally near the city center and an afternoon speech at Waingmaw Township to the southeast, each drawing thousands of NLD members, political acolytes and straight-out admirers.
Early the next day, she began a road trip across a large swathe of the far northern state. Covering hundreds of kilometers over two days, what began as a reasonably modest series of appearances at populated centers snowballed quickly into a rolling cavalcade of vehicles and motorcycles making impromptu stops and visits to towns and villages large and small. Suu Kyi and her entourage returned to Myitkyina on Sunday night in preparation for a flight farther south to Momauk, outside Bhamo, where she is expected to wrap up her whirlwind tour on Monday.
Despite the grueling pace, “The Lady,” as she is widely known, showed stamina, grace and patience on what could only be described as an arduous and somewhat unpredictable schedule.
At the more populous locales, such as Namti, Hopin and Mohnyin, thousands lined the streets and filled outdoor venues to hear her deliver the party’s political message, while along each route, in villages large and small, at junctions, on bridges and under almost every shady tree, residents of Kachin State waited patiently in the blazing heat for even just a glimpse of the woman so many clearly adore.
At times her security detail was hard pressed to protect her from the gathered roadside crowds, as dozens of hands at any given moment reached out to touch her as she passed. Suu Kyi herself waved to the gathered masses and shook hands where possible, even as at times the crowds pressed against her vehicle, blocking the road and bringing it to frequent unscheduled halts. Cries of “Daw Suu, we love you!” and numerous other endearments were almost constant, while others preferred to communicate their messages via placards. Though people of every generation joined in, it was young people who appeared in the greatest numbers on the streets.
Her message was simple and delivered unrelentingly: If you want true change, vote for the NLD, ignoring personalities, ethnicities and religious differences.
The Irrawaddy traveled on this journey with Khin Maung Myint, better known to locals as U Cho, a small business operator running for office under the NLD banner in Hpakant Township, epicenter of Burma’s lucrative jade production in the state.
He described the message delivered by Suu Kyi as straightforward. “The first priority is to amend the Constitution. A vote for NLD is a vote for transparency and the rule of law. Reform of both the Tatmadaw [Burma Army] and the education system to an international standard will then follow.”
When asked by a Kachin man in Nan Moma, near the well-known Indawgyi Lake, what she could do to end the conflict that has ravaged the state for years, she replied that voting the NLD into power meant that both change and peace in the restive state would follow soon after.
Few people here, of course, believe it’s as simple as that, and the road ahead for the NLD remains clouded with questions and formidable obstacles, but one thing became abundantly clear over the length of this particular journey: If the sheer adulation of so many citizens across the country for this leader can translate into votes, the NLD, and Suu Kyi, may still well find themselves on the road to Naypyidaw.
Founded in 1993 by a group of Myanmar journalists living in exile in Thailand, The Irrawaddy is a leading source of reliable news, information, and analysis on Burma/Myanmar and the Southeast Asian region. From its inception, The Irrawaddy has been an independent news media group, unaffiliated with any political party, organization or government. We believe that media must be free and independent and we strive to preserve press freedom.