Protests erupt in Myanmar after new leadership brings little change

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Hopes for a better future in light of new leadership in Myanmar have not been met. A year after Ms. Daw Aung San Suu Kyi came to power, discontent is still rampant in the country. Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi is a Nobel Prize laureate who garnered praise for her ideals championing the ideals of democracy. However, as tens of thousands of protestors have taken to the streets, it seems that people of Myanmar are not satisfied with how she has lived up to these ideals. Protests were sparked when she declared that a local bridge in the waterfront city of Mawamyine was to be named after her father. The major ethnic group in this area is the Mon people.

This group is vehemently protesting the naming of the bridge after a Burmese leader who had oppressed them and ignored their basic rights years earlier. According to the Mon Youth Forum, which represents the ethnic group, her decision is anything but democratic. Clearly, the issue over naming the bridge for Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi’s father is contentions, yet the local people were not consulted at all. As such, the Mon view this as a lack of respect for ethnic diversity.

It was expected that the country’s new leader would face some challenges. Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi became Myanmar’s first de facto leader after her party won the country’s national election in a landslide victory. This political victory marked the end of over half a century of military rule.

While bringing an end to military rule was a definite positive outcome from her election, many are disappointed that Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi has not gone further to improve conditions in the country. From the outset, Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi made it a goal to bring peace to Myanmar by fixing the long-standing ethnic tensions and insurgencies that have caused conflict in the country. However, her efforts to quell these tensions has been mediocre, leaving little changed.

In fact, the problem has worsened as fighting between different ethnic groups and the government has increased. Indeed, amidst the conflict between the government and ethnic groups, there have been accusations that the military has committed horrible atrocities, including rape and murder, against the Rohingya (a Muslim minority group that resides largely in western Myanmar). Not only has Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi remained close-lipped about this issue, but it appears she has taken little, if any, action to put an end to these crimes. Furthermore, her government has been increasingly suppressing freedom of speech. This trend has come as a shock to many as she has suffered from the oppression of her own rights as she spent about 15 years under house arrest. Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi was once beloved by the public.

However, as the change they have hoped to see has not come to fruition, her approval ratings amongst the public of Myanmar are at a low. Despite her silence on some issues, Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi did publicly acknowledge public dissatisfaction with her regime during a televised speech to the nation. In this speech, she vocalized that it was up to the people to chose another leader to replace her if they are dissatisfied with her administration. Voters have responded to their dissatisfaction with the current government of Myanmar.

While a year ago Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi’s party, the National League for Democracy, was largely in control of the government, there has been a shift. Over this past weekend, parliamentary elections were held, and the National League for Democracy only won nine of the 19 available seats. Still, Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi also vocalized that her administration has also made definitive strides, including large-scale building of roads to improve transportation.

Furthermore, she is attempting to boost healthcare and education, doubling the amount of money the government normally spent on these areas. The country’s economy did experience some significant growth. This is because Myanmar became less isolated after making its transition away from military rule. However, even this growth has stymied, and foreign investment in Myanmar has dropped. While some are extremely critical of Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi’s regime for not doing enough, others believe that expecting so much change so quickly was setting the bar too high. Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi echoed this sentiment in her speech, saying that the government is facing complex problems from ethnic conflicts to previous corruption of the military and government, so it is not fair to expect the resolution of these difficulties in one year’s time. Only time can tell what her next years in office will bring.

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