RANGOON — Opposition figurehead Win Tin has defended Aung San Suu Kyi’s role in the controversial copper mine commission that triggered mass protests last week, saying “this is how leaders should behave.”
Suu Kyi faced hundreds of protesters in the area around the Letpadaung copper mine after a parliamentary commission, which she chaired, said the project should not be canceled despite environmental concerns.
Win Tin, the 82-year-old patriarch of the National League for Democracy (NLD) who spent 19 years as a political prisoner, admitted the dispute was the greatest challenge the party had faced since Suu Kyi was released from detention over two years ago.
“Many people feel she should not have taken this position [on the future of the project], and there are fears that she is absorbing the criticism that should rightly go to the military,” said Win Tin at his home in central Rangoon.
“But there is also admiration for her bravery and courage to face up to big problems like this. This is how leaders should behave.”
Locals remain adamant in their opposition to the copper mine, which is a joint venture between the army-backed Myanmar Economic Holdings Ltd and China’s Wenbao Group, a subsidiary of arms manufacturer Norinco.
“She is the only one that can handle this problem. If the military had dealt with this, the problems would have become much deeper.”
Win Tin also spoke about his hopes for the future of the NLD in the wake of last week’s first-ever party congress.
“We have some disputes and problems but overall our elections at grassroots were successful. In the past we were very centralized [as a party], but in the future we have vowed to hold more democratic dialogue,” he said, referring to criticisms that the party is tightly controlled by an aging group of veteran leaders.
He said the party had made efforts to welcome new blood, with eight younger members brought into the Central Executive Committee alongside seven “old hands.”
“Before this congress, we didn’t know what sort of people were coming. There were elections in 15,000 wards and villages across the country and we didn’t know about their education level or political inclination. Some may be quite unfamiliar with political matters, but we have started training and will do it very seriously.”
He also reiterated his concerns over the close relationship Suu Kyi has evolved with the military.
The military “have played this game very well,” he said. “Not because they have softened their ideas, but because they have put themselves in a very strong position with the Constitution. They have people everywhere—in Parliament, in the civil service, in every part of the economy—they rule everything.
“From the beginning I wasn’t happy to work with the military, but Aung San Suu Kyi has a very lenient and generous opinion of military figures. It is not just a tactic, she has been saying this for many years.”