MANDALAY—Opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi raised the issue of unemployment during a rally near Burma’s second-biggest city this weekend.
“Official polls say 4 percent of the country is unemployed, but I think it’s more than that, because in Kawhmu, my constituency, more than 4 percent of the youth are unemployed,” the Nobel Peace laureate told a crowd of hundreds of supporters in the town of Pyin Oo Lwin, east of Mandalay, on Sunday. “This is the biggest problem at present and for the future of the country.”
“If a man is without a job, his well-being will suffer,” she said. “High unemployment will discourage development. We need to focus on this unemployment.”
Suu Kyi made the statement following the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Naypyidaw, which concluded on Friday. At the forum of business executives and political leaders in Burma’s capital, the democracy icon told reporters that job creation was a top priority as the country transitions from nearly half a century of military rule.
Speaking over the weekend near Mandalay, she said foreign investment would be key to creating new jobs, but highlighted lingering challenges to attracting capital from abroad.
“Foreign investors are afraid to invest in the country because there’s no guarantee for them, because we still lack rule of law and infrastructure here,” she said. “That’s why rule of law is fundamental to development in this country.”
She said poor rule of law had also encouraged religious violence and land grabs in the country.
“Without rule of law, land is seized from farmers and families are displaced,” she told the supporters who had come from as far away as east Burma’s Shan State to hear the democracy icon speak. Many farmers and displaced land owners in the crowd carried placards reading, “Mother Suu, please help people who have lost their land,” “Help us have rule of law,” and “We support Mother Suu to be president in 2015.”
The parliamentarian said lawmakers from her National League for Democracy (NLD) party had made progress since being elected to the legislature last year, but added that the fruits of their progress had yet to reach most Burmese people.
“We have made good progress even though we only have 43 seats in Parliament. But I have to admit, the citizens are still far from benefitting from the results of that progress,” she said, calling for further education and health reform as well as improvements in electricity supply.
She called on her supporters to actively participate in the reform process.
“Everyone, not only the government, has a responsibility to create a democratic country,” she said. “Everyone must know their duties and follow the rules.”
Suu Kyi last week publicly announced for the first time her desire to be president in 2015.
“If Daw Suu becomes president, we believe there will be rule of law and no more oppression or land confiscations,” Khin Maung San, a farmer whose land in Naung Cho, Shan State, had been confiscated in a land grab, told The Irrawaddy. “She is our only hope.”
“But we doubt she will be president because of the 2008 Constitution,” Khin Maung San added, referring to an article in the Constitution which bans Suu Kyi from running for president because her late husband was British and her children are foreign citizens. “If we can’t repair the Constitution, we must fight strong so Aung San Suu Kyi can lead us.”