Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) has won a landslide victory in Myanmar after general elections on 8 November. It was the country’s first national vote since a nominally civilian government was introduced in 2011, ending nearly 50 years of military rule. The NLD now has control of parliament and can choose the next president. (BBC News)
In the week following this momentous election we crossed over the border from Thailand to Myanmar to try to talk to some people about this victory. The border town of Tachilek in Shan State was of course flying the flag of the Union of Myanmar everywhere but we were looking out for the red flag of Aung San Suu Kyi but to no avail. Immediately after crossing the border we were approached by a grey haired homeless man asking for a cigarette which he of course recieved, cigarettes here only cost 10p a pack after all.
Four hours later we were sat at a small restaurant geared towards the locals with this man, let me introduce Max.
Max(not his real name) is forty three years old which means that all of the life he can remember has been under the rule of a military junta, non-the-less he was university educated and spoke Burmese, Thai, Chinese and English with a smattering of French as well. Max has never been able to do anything with his education and has been sleeping on the streets for many years, he described it as having a concrete pillow but he was willing to talk to us openly about politics probably because there was no-one else in the restaurant who understood a word of what we were talking about, it demands a certain set of conditions to be able to talk openly in some places in the world and despite the recent victory it takes a while to feel secure about talking about politics after forty years of oppression.
Max talked about how he loved his country even though it was broken but he was very passionate about the future for the little ones, for him he conceded it was too late but the children may be able to have a life which will be more free and giving than the one he has had to lead.
He talked to us about the run ups to the elections when Aung San Suu Kyi, whom he referred to never by name but always as Mamma, came to Tachilek for an election rally for one hour and sixty thousand people turned up to listen and show support. He talked about personally seeing and hearing about people travelling from nearby villages in local taxis for free because many of the taxi drivers wanted to do whatever they could to help support Mamma and so they gave up their chance to earn money to help gather supporters, he said that due to a lack of money and mobility he could not say how it was elsewhere in Myanmar, he could only talk about Tachilek but he knew that the future of his country depended upon Mamma, a woman with a standing equal to any of the great statesmen through history, Gandhi or Mandela. He spoke passionately about how this is a chance, albeit with caveats such as many of the government posts being reserved for the military, including the minister of the interior and the exterior. He talked about how Mamma could now choose the president but she would be the power behind.
“Mamma is not the president but she is the president.” Max.
Aung San Suu Kyi may well have lead her party to a landslide win but she can’t become president. Article 59F of the constitution states that if one of your “legitimate children… owes allegiance to a foreign power” you are disqualified. That covers both Ms Suu Kyi’s sons Kim and Alexander, who have British passports.
A crushing win in the election won’t help either, as the unelected army representatives can still block attempts to change this clause. So barring a spectacular change of military heart, it won’t be President Suu Kyi in 2016. (BBC News)
Max has greying hair and is still homeless at forty three despite his obvious intelligence and skills in languages but he saw real hope for the youth of his beloved country and it was incredibly interesting to listen to him speak although we got the feeling that he was still not sure how safe it was to speak which is why an environment surrounded by people lacking any knowledge of English was a safe haven for him to talk, and he obviously thoroughly enjoyed doing so despite the possible risk to himself.
He talked at length about how this election for the ordinary people of Myanmar is one of those occasions that you will always remember but that it is just the start, he was still very unsure as to wether the junta would really allow everything to change. He does not trust that they will really allow the transition of power to happen and was anxious that as many people as possible watch what is going on.
“The eyes of the world need to be on Myanmar.” Max
The question is will the eyes of the world be on and stay on Myanmar? We certainly hope so but in a cynical, money-driven world like today how much will the world care about a country with no oil? With the threat or perceived threat from other parts of the world now aimed squarely at the west how long will people remember Mamma, Max and their Myanmar? We hope for a long time, we would hate to see the hope in Max’s eyes extinguished.
We have an image of Max but for his own safety we will not publish it!