MANDALAY — National League for Democracy (NLD) chairwoman Aung San Suu Kyi challenged Burma’s government—still dominated by current or former military officials—to amend the country’s controversial Constitution by year’s end, at a rally that drew more than 20,000 people in Mandalay on Sunday.
“I want to challenge them [military officials] to amend the Constitution within this year, from within the boundaries of the law and via the Parliament. If they truly love the country, respect the citizens: Think of the future of the country and be brave enough,” Suu Kyi said before supporters gathered at an athletics field on Sunday morning.
Suu Kyi also reminded the crowd that her father, Gen. Aung San, founded the army more than 70 years ago as an institution charged with protecting the country and its people.
“The army exists not to govern the country but to protect it. It is unpleasant to hold onto something that doesn’t belong to you,” she said, referring to military representatives’ guaranteed 25 percent of seats in Parliament. “I have to question why they want to do this, as it is to the detriment of your dignity and the country suffers [as a result].
“I want to urge them to show their ability to the world—that they have no intention of holding to power, and show how much they can sacrifice for the sake of the country,” she added.
Repeating a line that she put forward a day earlier in Rangoon, the opposition leader said the first priority for reform of the charter was Section 436. The section is key to further constitutional amendments, requiring more than 75 percent of Parliament to support proposed amendments and giving the military an effective veto over changes.
Suu Kyi and her NLD are also pushing for changes to Article 59(f), which bars her from running for president in an election slated for 2015 because she married a foreign national and has two foreign passport-holding children.
Suu Kyi on Sunday encouraged her supporters to write letters to Commander-in-Chief Snr-Gen Min Aung Hlaing and other military officials, urging them to cooperate in building a better future for the country.
Sunday’s public meeting was organized in collaboration with the 88 Generation Peace and Open Society, a prominent civil society group comprised of leaders of Burma’s 1988 pro-democracy student uprising. An estimated 25,000 supporters from Mandalay and surrounding cities including Pyin Oo Lwin, Nyaung Oo, Pakokku and Mogoke, as well as some who traveled from as far away as Kachin, Karenni and Chin states, came out to show their support.
Streets in Mandalay were clogged with vehicles carrying people with the NLD’s red-and-yellow flags, while the speaking venue, Aung Pin Lae sports grounds, was the scene of activity from 3am to welcome Suu Kyi’s second visit to the town since 2012.
Speaking before the crowd in Mandalay, Burma’s second largest city, the prominent 88 Generation leader Min Ko Naing encouraged all citizens to participate in an upcoming nationwide signature campaign in support of constitutional change.
“The people are like the sky, which is always there for us, and the government or the men in power are like the clouds, which visit the sky temporarily. We need people power to create a better future for the country,” Min Ko Naing said.
The former student leader said the 2008 Constitution, which passed in a referendum held shortly after Cyclone Nargis devastated the country’s Irrawaddy Delta, needed amending if the country was to exist as a genuine, federal democracy.
Min Ko Naing also addressed a warning made recently by President Thein Sein, who visited the town just three days ahead of Sunday’s gathering and claimed the push for constitutional change risked sparking unrest.
“We have the freedom to educate the people on what is going on with the politics of the country,” Min Ko Naing said. “We are peacefully working within the bounds of the law. Warning that there will be unrest is just in fear of losing face for what they have done in the past.”
The NLD-88 Generation rally for constitutional reform in Mandalay was the second organized by the collaborating groups in as many days. The first meeting was held on Saturday in Rangoon, where some 15,000 supporters came out to show support for the cause.
Rally organizers say they plan to travel to other cities across all of Burma’s 14 states and divisions, while signature campaigns across the country will begin on May 27 and will run through July 19.