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For Myanmar's people, more courage is needed this year

Publication Date : 05-02-2013


"Reconciliation means working together to correct the legacy of past injustice." Nelson Mandela (December 16, 1995).

In the days before his passing, prominent writer and social critic Ludu U Sein Win told opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, Nobel laureate and chair of the National League for Democracy, that "Criticising means that we [journalists] are, in a way, helping".

He directed his comment to the NLD because it is almost certain that the main opposition party will win the 2015 general election, given the current sentiment among the general public.

If the then State Law and Order Restoration Council (SLORC), previously the highest decision-making body in the military regime, had permitted the formation of a government in line with the 1990 election result, the NLD, which won 81 per cent of the votes, would have had no problem forming a government.

History more or less repeated itself in the 2012 by-elections, with the NLD winning 95 per cent of the votes. If the current sentiment continues, the NLD could very well take as much as 75 per cent of the vote in the 2015 general election. But whether Aung San Suu Kyi becomes president or not depends upon the ruling party and the armed forces. But are the MPs and political parties prepared to work with a dynamic leader of the NLD? Regardless of who takes up the presidency, enormous problems await that person.

Against a backdrop of high living costs combined with cheap labour costs, wriggling out of this predicament will be a great challenge for Myanmar. Land, factories, mills, banking and investment institutions, power and authority are all in the hands of a very few cronies. The rental cost of houses and apartments has shot up recently. Leasing rates for restaurants, shops and other business premises are also going up sharply. However, incomes, whether salaries or daily wages, remain the same. This phenomenon has placed residents of Yangon in a chokehold. And when the commercial hub is choking, the economy of the whole country will eventually fall apart.

Some people utter the words, "There are now job opportunities due to investment", but those words are quite bitter to listen to. That sentiment is tantamount to a serious message that there is no future for workers, and a certain number of starving slaves are likely to get paid jobs.

I was happy when the president promised, at the time he assumed his duties, that manipulation by political and business cronies would not be allowed. But at this moment, even the so-called "build, operate and transfer" (BOT) businesses are in the hands of these cronies.

At this juncture, I would like to submit a request to the president to stop the building a 34-storey structure at the site of the open-air bazaar in downtown Yangon, undertaken by Shwe Taung Company. A sincere request is made to the effect of not allowing high structures within a five-kilometre radius of Shwedagon Pagoda, a monument to which Buddhists across the world pay highest respect. Moreover, the structure must not be higher than 20-storeys. Buddhists must come to protest in support of this cause. I would like to request political and business cronies do not tarnish the Shwedagon Pagoda and leave this most respected monument alone.

Critics, including myself, have been attacked unfairly. Take the Myanmar Express, for example, a publication that colluded with intelligence units and agencies for the purpose of discrediting the opposition and critics, including myself. It is a cheap ploy by some people in power who believe that mudslinging and tarnishing people will get them to stop voicing their opinions about irregularities.

When the previous regime handed over state power to the present government, prominent persons distanced themselves from bribery and corruption, like the incumbent president, the commander-in-chief of the Defence Services and the vice-commander-in-chief of the Defence Services. They have reflected the democratisation process. During two years of changes, over 70 per cent of the army brass above the rank of colonel have refrained from bribery and corruption.

I earnestly hope that the incumbent commander-in-chief and the deputy commander-in-chief will be able to pull the defence forces up from the vicious cycle of muddy and chaotic politics. The armed forces must change their mindset towards the national ethnic races, which they consider to be enemies of the state.

The concept of a genuine federal union is, in other words, "non-disintegration of the Union". These days, the national ethnic races are pledging that they will never break away from the Union. The political dilemma must be addressed in a spirit of cooperation between politicians and the armed forces. Military matters must be resolved and settled among those that bear arms.

The civil war broke out and became so prolonged due to the lack of unity among us. The civil war bred the dictatorial system. The dictatorial system pushed the country into poverty. At this time of urgency, we must make a clarion call for unity. If we are to unite on the basis of righteousness and justice, then all the people must have courage. We must be brave and courageous for the sake of justice.

"We have to forgive the past and at the same time ensure that the dignity of the victims is restored and their plight properly addressed." Nelson Mandela (September 18, 1994).

Dr Than Htut Aung is chairman and CEO of Eleven Media Group.


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