As Myanmar Charter Change Fails, a Good Time to Remember U Win Tin

By The Irrawaddy 12 March 2020

Today would have been U Win Tin’s 90th birthday. Given the many pressing issues now facing Myanmar’s one-time opposition figures-turned government leaders and lawmakers—including the global spread of coronavirus and the ongoing parliamentary vote on constitutional amendment—those who once fought for democracy alongside him could be forgiven for failing to mark the occasion.

A veteran journalist and pro-democracy activist, U Win Tin spent 19 years in prison for his opposition to the former military regime, but his principles never wavered. One of the founding members of the National League for Democracy (NLD), now the ruling party, he was jailed in 1989 and released in September 2008.

“The dictators can only detain our bodies, not our souls,” he once said while in prison. Until his death in 2014, U Win Tin consistently challenged the military, and he was widely admired for the courage and integrity he showed in his political stance. The way he confronted Myanmar’s repressive rulers was so uncompromising and inspiring that the generals feared him, and with good reason. In 2008, the authorities finally had to drag him out of his prison cell in order to free him.

Today, as Myanmar’s military quashes a series of constitutional amendment proposals in Parliament that would have reduced the number of seats reserved for the army, it is timely that democracy activists and all those in Myanmar who have long suffered under the military regime and dictatorship, should joyfully commemorate U Win Tin’s birthday and his contribution to Myanmar’s unfinished struggle for democracy, freedom and equality. If he were alive today, one wonders what U Win Tin would have to say about the current situation in Myanmar.

U Win Tin (third from right) raises his hand to show his support for writing a new constitution during a public consensus-gathering event on constitutional change in November 2013. / Hanthawaddy U Win Tin Page

He opposed both the 2008 Constitution and Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s decision to contest the by-election in 2012. In November 2013 he pushed for a rewrite of the charter—not a popular position among NLD members at the time. In recent days we have been reminded of his views on the Constitution, with many of his admirers posting photos of him amid the parliamentary vote. One of the few prominent NLD figures to share his views at that time was the lawyer U Ko Ni, who would be assassinated in 2017.

A few years before his death, U Win Tin said that Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, as the leader of the NLD, had been too conciliatory toward the government of the time.

“Some of us would like to push the military into the Bay of Bengal,” he told The Washington Post. “She only wants to push them into Kandawgyi Lake,” a reference to a grand lake in central Yangon.

He added, “Suu Kyi is a VIP prisoner—we spent our times in dog cells and we were treated inhumanely. Our feelings and sentiments towards the generals is not the same as Aung San Suu Kyi. She always looked at them with some understanding and she sees the military as her father’s army. But we don’t,” he said, referring to independence hero General Aung San, considered the founder of modern Myanmar’s armed forces.

The military hasn’t changed much—and neither did U Win Tin.

Indeed, Myanmar has much to learn from the life of democracy activist U Win Tin, a man of courage and integrity who passed away on an April morning six years ago while seeking care for several health ailments at a general hospital in Yangon.

You may also like these stories:

Shadowy Drug Lord Wei Hsueh-kang’s Influence Still Felt in Myanmar’s Wa Region and Beyond

Flashpoints: Myanmar’s Eight Most Hotly Contested Constitutional Amendment Proposals

Myanmar Will Benefit From Deeper Ties With India