Suu Kyi Wraps Up Constitutional Reform Tour in Northwest Burma

Zarni Mann The Irrawaddy

KALAYMYO, Sagaing Division — Tens of thousands of people from Chin State and western Sagaing Division turned out to show their support for opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi on Friday, the last day of her visit to the region on a tour to promote constitutional change.

“We strongly believe in her because she repeatedly assured us that she would do her best to change the Constitution,” said San Myint, who traveled from Maw Lite Township to hear Suu Kyi speak in Kalaymyo, a town on the Myittha River in Sagaing Division.

A sea of supporters waving National League for Democracy flags, many wearing traditional Chin attire, gathered on Friday morning at an athletic field in Kalaymyo, where Suu Kyi concluded constitutional talks during a tour of the Kalay region, which straddles Chin State and Sagaing Division in northwestern Burma.

Suu Kyi, the chairwoman of the National League for Democracy (NLD), has been attempting to drum up support for her campaign to change the country’s Constitution, a military-drafted document that bars her from presidential eligibility and contains several other provisions widely considered to be undemocratic.

Wrapping up a week that drew thousands of local residents to speeches made across three towns in the region, Friday’s turnout was the biggest yet for the opposition leader.

“Kalay is the town where the most people came to the public meeting on my Chin State trip. Thank you for showing your support for us,” she said.

On her four-day trip, the Nobel laureate repeatedly called for amending Burma’s Constitution, saying changes to the charter were important for stability, equality, unity and democracy in the country. Less than two weeks into the new year, Suu Kyi predicted on Thursday that 2014 would be a critical period for the country’s future.

“People have said 2015 is the year of importance for the country, but actually this year, 2014, is important,” she said. “Every political thing we do this year will affect 2015.

“That’s why we will try our best to amend the Constitution within this year,” she said, adding that Burma’s powerful military should not stand in the way of these changes.

Asked by supporters what her NLD would do if lawmakers failed to amend the Constitution, Suu Kyi said it was too early to speculate.

“We have to wait and see if they [Parliament] will amend it or not. We will decide depending on their work. But it is too early yet to talk about what we will do or what we will decide,” Suu Kyi said.

Those comments followed mixed messages from Suu Kyi and her party last month about whether they would participate in the 2015 national elections if the Constitution was not amended.

On Dec. 15, Suu Kyi for the first time raised the possibility of an NLD boycott of the polls under such circumstances, saying the party risked losing its “dignity” if it were to participate in elections under the current Constitution. However, two weeks later an NLD spokesperson sought to dispel talk of a boycott by the country’s largest opposition party by confirming its intent to participate in 2015.

The opposition leader on Friday urged young members in the audience to help educate the people about the need to amend the Constitution, which she said was holding back reforms in the former military dictatorship.

“The 2008 Constitution is preventing national reconciliation, which is very important for the democratic development of the country. People need to understand that, and of course, that’s one reason that amendments are needed,” she said.

Although it was Suu Kyi’s first visit to Chin State in a decade, the long-time democracy icon’s popular standing among those living in Burma’s poorest state appeared undiminished by her absence. Each stop on the tour brought people out into the streets to greet her, and a show of hands indicated that an overwhelming majority of those in the crowd at speeches in the Chin State towns of Tedim, Falam and Hakha supported constitutional reform.

“We now understand that amending the Constitution first is important to develop the region. I believe development and the other changes will come later, after amending the Constitution,” said Pu Lian Kyone Nuon from Sann Township.

“We have no doubts about her; if she says so, she will do it for sure. We wish her to be our future president. But I believe she will do everything she can for changes in the region and the country, whether she is president or not in 2015,” he added.

Despite some logistical difficulties, including bumpy roads and at times bitterly cold weather, the NLD deemed their leader’s trip a success.

“We can say this was a successful trip for Daw Suu as we witnessed all of the people in the region showing their support. More than 90 percent of the public has raised their hands and agreed to amend the Constitution. We will submit the results [in favor of amending the Constitution] that we got from the public to Parliament,” said Kyi Toe, a member of the NLD’s central information committee who accompanied Suu Kyi on the trip.

Suu Kyi departed for Naypyidaw on Friday afternoon. According to the NLD, she will travel to Hpa-An in Karen State on Jan. 18 and will proceed to Nam Sam in southern Shan state on Jan. 25, where she will continue her push for constitutional reform.