MAUPIN TOWNSHIP — Thousands of residents of the Irrawaddy Delta gave opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi a warm welcome on Saturday as she ramps up a nationwide campaign to garner public support for reforming Burma’s undemocratic Constitution, a message that was well-received by the excited crowd in Maupin Township.
The National League for Democracy (NLD) chairperson told a rally that the Burma Army, also known as the Tatmadaw, should allow for amendments to the charter and obey the will of the people.
“The Tatmadaw should only work for the people… My father did not form the Tatmadaw to work for the interests of one group,” Suu Kyi, said referring to her father Gen. Aung San, Burma’s most important independence leader and a founder of the military shortly after World War II.
“The first [priority] for the Tatmadaw is to respect the wishes of the people,” she said. “There is no need [for the army] to fear having different ideas. We need to negotiate all together. Negotiating to find a solution is how a democratic system works.”
In Maupin, a township located in the Irrawaddy Delta about 3 hours’ drive from Rangoon, several thousand people, most of them farmers, had gathered in Saturday morning for the 2-hour event, which was held in a dry paddy field that offered little protection from the relentless hot season sun.
A festive mood prevailed and many in the crowd wore red- and white-colored clothes—the colors of the NLD—and waved flags with the party’s symbol, the fighting peacock. A young girl took to the stage to sing a song about how Suu Kyi would be the winner of the 2015 elections and Burma’s next president.
Suu Kyi did not speak about the presidency but attacked the Constitution, describing it as undemocratic constraint on the Burmese people. “Having to stay under this Constitution, it is hotter than being in this weather. Therefore, to be able to stay in better shape, our people need to become involved in a movement for amending the Constitution,” she said. “Power should be in the hands of our people and not with a small group.”
The message drew a raucous reaction from the crowd and when asked by Suu Kyi if they would support constitutional reform, nearly all raised their hands in their air.
One woman in the crowd clapped her hands and shouted, “This [speech] means so much to us!
“Oh, she looks so young and pretty still!” she said about Suu Kyi.
Since early 2013 Suu Kyi has been publicly pushing for amending the charter, but the ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party has been reluctant to cooperate, while the military has indicated it wants the charter to remain in place. In February, the hugely popular NLD leader announced she was teaming with the respected 88 Generation activists in order to launch a people’s power movement to force constitutional reforms ahead of the 2015 elections.
In recent months she has been addressing rallies urging the Burmese public to support her and together with the 88 Generation leader she plans to hold large rallies in Rangoon and Mandalay next week.
The Constitution was drafted by the military in 2008 and ratified in a flawed referendum held only days after Cyclone Nargis struck. The charter gives the army control over a quarter of Parliament, immunity from crimes committed under the junta regime and blocks Suu Kyi from becoming president because her sons are British nationals.
The charter also stipulates that key amendment can only occur when 75 percent of Parliament supports the changes—a situation that gives the military a de facto veto over the reforms.