Saturday, January 26, 2013

Suu Kyi: Negotiated Compromise Best Way Forward for Burma

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Suu Kyi: Negotiated Compromise Best Way Forward for Burma
HONOLULU (Jan. 25, 2013) -- Despite the fact that until just a couple of years ago Burma’s military regime had kept her under years of house arrest for her political dissent, Nobel peace laureate Aung San Suu Kyi said in Hawai‘i today that negotiated compromise with the regime is the best way forward for the country’s nascent political awakening.

“I think the members of our military, like the rest our nation, would like to see Burma a happier, stronger, more harmonious country,” Suu Kyi told a group of Hawai’i community leaders gathered at the East-West Center in Honolulu. “Because of that, I do note rule out the possibility of solutions through negotiated compromise. In fact, that is the way I want to go.”

After East-West Center President Charles E. Morrison observed that Suu Kyi’s father, the assassinated independence leader Aung San, was a military leader who founded the modern Burmese army but then disarmed it in order to negotiate peacefully for independence from Britain after World War II, the opposition leader laughed: “That’s why I’m very fond of the military. I’ve often been criticized for saying that I’m fond of the Burmese army, but I can’t help it; it’s the truth.”
Aung San Suu Kyi at the East-West Center
Aung San Suu Kyi at the East-west Center on Jan. 25.

Click here to view video of Suu Kyi's remarks.
Click here for hi-res press images.

Suu Kyi said one topic she especially hopes to be able negotiate are amendments to the country’s army-drafted 2008 constitution, which while transitioning to nominally civilian leadership and moving toward a more open society, still leaves control firmly in the hands of the military.

“What we want to change about the constitution are those clauses which detract from democratic values, and there are a number of them,” she said. For example, one provision - which she said is aimed at specifically her – prevents anyone with foreign family members from becoming president. (Suu Kyi’s late husband, Michael Aris, was a British scholar, and their two sons were born in London.)

“The reason I object to this clause is because it was written with me in mind, and I do not think it is right for any constitution to be written with anybody in mind – whether it is to keep them in office for life, or to keep them out of office for life,” she said. “It’s not democratic, and it’s not what a constitution is all about.”

But the constitutional provisions that concern her the most, she said, are those that “may put obstacles in the way of a genuine union, because the aspirations of our ethnic nationalities are not fully met by the present constitution. Unless we can meet those aspirations, we can never hope to build up a true and lasting union based on peace and harmony.”

Suu Kyi is in Hawai‘i on a visit to receive a peace award at a global conference of Rotary International, in addition to meeting with community leaders at the East-West Center and addressing schoolchildren as part of the Pillars of Peace Hawai‘i initiative that has brought several Nobel Peace Prize winners to the islands to share values and ideas.

She said she is very happy to be in famously multi-ethnic Hawai‘i, “because I want to learn about harmony between different people and cultures. We are a nation of many ethnicities, but we have never achieved the harmony that we wish for; we are still divided in many ways. I hope to learn from the people of Hawai‘i how we can reconcile differences and build unity out of diversity, how we can make diversity a strength rather than a weakness for our nation.”

Elected to Burma’s national House of Representatives in landmark elections last spring – less than two years after she was released from more than a decade of on-and-off captivity – Suu Kyi now chairs that body’s Rule of Law Committee.

“When people ask me what I mean by democracy or rule of law, I often say that what I mean is a system that will give us both freedom and security in the right balance,” she said. “In the name of security, many authoritarian governments have deprived their people of freedom, but then in the name of freedom, the security of peoples has also been destroyed. What we are looking for is a society where there is a harmonious balance … based on a foundation of compassion and respect for differences between cultures and traditions.”

Suu Kyi said she knows this will be difficult, but that she is a great believer in hard work: “I always say ‘there’s no hope without endeavor.’ If you hope for something, you have to work toward it. If we want our society to survive the new challenges that we’re facing now, we’ll have to work very hard to do that. But we also hope that our friends (in other countries) will help us to achieve our goals.”

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