NAYPYIDAW — Politicians voted to name a bridge across the Salween River in Mon State after Burma’s independence hero Gen Aung San on Tuesday despite serious concerns and objections from locals.
Residents favored naming the bridge linking Moulmein and Chaungzon townships Yamanya, meaning Mon State in Mon language, or Salween Bridge.
Burma’s Lower House, however, accepted the motion of Mon State’s Paung Township lawmaker Mi Kon Chan to name the bridge Gen Aung San.
The bridge’s proposed name became known when the Ministry of Construction sent a letter to Aung Naing Oo, deputy speaker of the Mon State parliament, announcing a celebratory opening ceremony for it on Feb. 13, the 102nd birthday of Gen Aung San. Locals were outraged by the decision and the opening was cancelled.
Chief minister of Mon State U Min Min said he would reconsider naming the bridge after the Burmese independence icon but then Mi Kon Chan put forward the motion to name it Gen Aung San.
Accepted by the Lower House on Feb. 28, the motion was followed by a protest of more than 3,000 people near the bridge construction site.
Fifteen lawmakers debated the proposal during the Lower House session on Tuesday, with National League for Democracy (NLD) members campaigning for the name Gen Aung San and Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) members as well as military representatives arguing against the proposal.
Touting Burma’s independence hero’s virtues, NLD lawmakers said he was not the leader of a particular group or region but the leader of the whole nation.
“I was quoting the history [of Gen Aung San] at Parliament and invented nothing,” Mi Kon Chan told the press after the parliamentary session.
USDP lawmaker U Maung Myint of Minkin Township said the main responsibility of the legislature is to exercise checks and balances on the executive and judicial branches, and not to debate such proposals.
“Parliament is not the place to debate the naming of a bridge,” he told Parliament. “It’s the wrong platform.”
The Ministry of Construction and the Mon State government should have discussed the name, said military representative Major Zaw Zaw Moe.
“Rather than voting to name a bridge, Lower House lawmakers should listen to the wishes of local people in accordance with Parliament’s slogan,” he said.
NLD lawmaker U Kyaw Lwin Aung of Magwe’s Sidoktaya Township argued that every citizen is in debt to Burma’s independence hero. Fellow NLD lawmaker Daw Mar Mar Khaing of Mon State’s Thaton Township said Mon people are grateful.
Lawmaker U Myo Zaw Oo of Lewe Township said the name shows the gratitude of Mon State’s residents toward Gen Aung San, adding that the NLD government has also been working to revitalize the customs and identities of ethnic groups.
He cited the NLD government’s addition of a Brahminy Duck statue in state capital Moulmein, a cultural symbol of the Mon.
Saying that the country’s peace process remained sensitive, ethnic Kachin lawmaker Nhtung Hka Naw San of the NLD explained: “Mon locals will have many opportunities to name future structures in line with their culture and the Union government will have opportunities to arrange this.”
USDP lawmaker U Maung Myint evoked the names of dozens of well-known Mon people. “Even if the bridge were named after President U Htin Kyaw [whose ethnicity is Mon], I would accept it,” he said.
Mi Kon Chan urged Parliament to approve the proposal and the Union minister for Construction U Win Khaing agreed that the name “strengthens and perpetuates the Union Spirit.”
The proposal resulted in 217 lawmakers voting in favor, 43 against and 116 abstaining.