One year on: what do Myanmar’s people think of Suu Kyi?


Myanmar's State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi is getting mixed reviews at her government's one-year mark. Photo: Min Min/Mizzima

Myanmar's State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi is getting mixed reviews at her government's one-year mark. Photo: Min Min/Mizzima

One year after Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy (NLD) party was sworn in as Myanmar's first elected government in half a century, opinions are mixed on its performance.

Many have a saint-like adoration for "The Lady", who championed a decades-long democracy struggle against the country's former military oppressors. 

But after 12 months with dubious progress on economic reform and repressive legislation still on the books, some supporters are starting to lose patience. 

Here are some views from Myanmar: 

'Penis poet' Maung Saungkha

"I was imprisoned for six months for a poem," said the young writer who was arrested in 2015 for penning a satirical verse about having a tattoo of former junta-installed president Thein Sein on his penis.

"We understood that the previous (military-backed) government was a new form of junta... so when we attacked them, people supported us.

"But since the new government led by Aung San Suu Kyi took power, we can't say what we like. We can't point out issues or criticize Aung San Suu Kyi. If we did, people who support her online or outside would attack us."

Many activists have expressed acute concern about a spike in the number of online defamation prosecutions since the NLD came to power, with some cases filed by party members. 

"The law can keep people silent," said Maung Saungkha. "This situation should not be acceptable in a democratic country. There is no democracy without freedom of expression and certainly we don't have that today."

Nay Phone Latt, NLD lawmaker in Yangon

The former free speech blogger, who spent years in jail for criticising the junta before being elected as an NLD lamaker in 2015, said the government needed to improve its communication with the public. 

"Some problems and mismanagement happened because of the eagerness to change the country quickly," he said, pointing to the chaos caused by an ill-planned overhaul of Yangon's bus service and the uproar that greeted the government's decision to cut the 10-day Thingyan holiday in April. 

"Misunderstandings have arisen between the government and those people because decisions were made without proper explanation," he said. 

"I would like the government to take this lesson from their first year.... Some people have had real problems."

Farmer and activist, Htet Htet Wai

Farmer Htet Htet Wai said the NLD has let down the rural voters who propelled them to power by failing to return land confiscated under the former junta.

"When the government won power, farmers were optimistic and hoped to get land back that had been taken from them," she said.

"But in reality, farmers have the same problems and difficulties as under the old government."

Rural workers turned out in droves to elect the NLD, which promised to return thousands of acres seized by the military and their cronies during the 1990s and 2000s.

But little has been done to help them over the past year and hundreds of farmers are now facing court in cases relating to land-grabbing. 

"To make it worse, some NLD members are only furthering their own interests... We can see that they are working with the cronies," said Htet Htet Wai. 

"No one stands up for the farmers, who know little about the world, so the farmers have lost their rights." 

Ye Myat Min, CEO of tech firm 'nex'

"Generally I am quite happy with how things are progressing," said Ye Myat Min, who founded his technology firm in 2013. 

"I understand that they (the NLD) need time. We can't reverse everything that went wrong in the last 20-30 years in five years, so we need to give them time."

Myanmar has one of the fastest-growing economies in Asia, with reforms under the previous army-backed government thrusting open a market that had withered under junta mismanagement and Western sanctions. 

However its stellar run has slowed under Suu Kyi's administration while foreign investment is tipped to fall for the first time in four years.

"I think we're hopeful the NLD government will instill the right mindset and the right foundations for the next government... so the next government can really build on top of this solid, good foundation."

(AFP)

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