Yangon—On this day in 1988, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi gave her first-ever public speech to a mass rally at the western gate of Shwedagon Pagoda, which marked the beginning of her campaign against the dictatorial military regime and secured her reputation as a democratic icon in the years to come.
Despite the rumors that landmines had been planted and venomous snakes were hidden at the venue by the regime to deter attendees, more than 500,000 people of different faiths and social status came to the rally and gave a rousing ovation to her calls for a multiparty democracy, a free election and the formation of an interim government.
With a portrait of her father, independence hero General Aung San in the background, the 43-year-old held a file containing excerpts of her father’s speeches. She said although she was married to a foreigner and had spent most of her life aboard, it would never lessen her love and devotion towards the country.
“Another thing which some people have been saying is that I know nothing of Burmese politics. The trouble is that I know too much,” she said, stressing the need for unity to achieve democracy.
In response to the military regime’s brutal crackdown on pro-democracy protestors in Yangon (then Rangoon) over the preceding weeks, she said, quoting her father who established Myanmar’s modern military: “The armed forces are meant for this nation and people and they should be such a force having the honor and respect of the people.”
In her 30-minute speech, she appealed to the armed forces to become a force in which the people can place their trust and reliance.
She also warned politicians — who were helping her at the time — against political manipulation in the future. “If you do so, I will denounce you,” she said.
The regime organized a general election in 1990, over a year after the Shwedagon rally. The National League for Democracy led by Daw Aung San Suu Kyi won a majority in the election. But the regime refused to hand over power.