Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi on Monday called on the country’s writers and artists to join the push for political reforms, which she said have stalled under President Thein Sein’s administration.
The leader of the popular National League for Democracy (NLD) said that the country cannot wait until general elections next year to proceed with democratic change.
“What I want to urge is that you help us and collaborate with us and other stakeholders to get our country on the right track [towards democracy],” she told around 100 artists and writers at a gathering in the former capital Yangon.
“This is a very important time for our country,” Aung San Suu Kyi told the group of prominent writers, cartoonists, painters, poets, photographers, editors, translators, publishers, and bloggers.
“As I often say, 2015 will not decide which way our country will go forward—it is 2014 that will decide it. If we can progress the right way in 2014, we can get what we want in 2015.”
Thein Sein’s government has ushered in a host of democratic reforms since taking power from the former military junta in 2011, but his ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) has been slow to accept proposed reforms to Myanmar’s constitution.
The constitution consists of a clause that gives the military veto power over changes to the charter and another which bars Aung San Suu Kyi from running for president in next year’s election because her two sons hold British citizenship.
During Monday’s meeting, which focused on growing pains Myanmar has experienced as it transitions to a democracy after decades of military rule, Aung San Suu Kyi pledged her support to writers and artists and vowed to meet with them as regularly as possible to hear their concerns.
She also called on the group to correct foreign governments who she said were wrong in describing Myanmar as a democratic success story, according to a report by the Irrawaddy online journal.
“We can’t get development unless the real situation is known. So I would like to urge artists to expose the country’s real situation publicly, and to show in a visible way that our country is not still on a real path to democracy,” the Irrawaddy quoted her as saying.
“Only if we can change the spirit is it a real revolution, and only if we see democracy as a culture, not as a political system, can it be firm,” she said, adding that political activists had worked with artists to promote democracy since a failed 1988 uprising against the then-military junta.
Monday marked the second time Aung San Suu Kyi has met with the country’s writers and artists to discuss Myanmar’s path to democracy. She had met with a similar group from northern Myanmar in Mandalay region’s Pyin Oo Lwin town in March.
Monday’s meeting included prominent writers Chit Oo Nyo, Ah Yoe, Ah Kyi Taw, Juu ,and Ma Thida, as well as blogger Nay Phone Latt, artist Kyaw Thaung, cartoonists Myay Zar and Aw P Kyel, and the founder of Rangoon’s Free Funeral Services Society, Kyaw Thu.
The Irrawaddy quoted Htet Myat, chairman of the Myanmar Writers Union, as saying that writers and artists had been regularly imprisoned for their opposition to the military regime, and that they continue to face restrictions today under the reformist government.
He also expressed concern over the decision by Aung San Suu Kyi and other NLD lawmakers to back parliament’s adoption in March of the government’s proposed publishing law, which has been criticized as being overly restrictive.
“I would like to request a democracy leader and party that stand beside artists, poets, writers, and the media,” he said.
Aung San Suu Kyi blamed parliament’s passing of the Printers and Publishers Registration Law on poor communication.
“I admit that with the print law, the NLD did not fully stand up for what we should have,” she told the journal.
“But the media didn’t negotiate with us. We agreed on that proposal because we understood that the ministry [of information] submitted the law after finishing its own negotiations with the media and reaching an agreement. It shows we need more connection to avoid misunderstandings.”
In 2012, Thein Sein shut down Myanmar’s notorious censorship board and granted private daily newspapers the right to publish for the first time in 50 years, but critics have said that recent moves by the government have threatened those gains and have called for laws to protect them.
In February, the annual review of freedom of information by global media watchdog Reporters Without Borders questioned whether Myanmar's reforms and democratization under Thein Sein were beginning to run out of steam as the government struggles to resolve sectarian and ethnic conflicts.
Reporters Without Borders rated Myanmar as 151st out of 179 nations in terms of media freedom, but expressed optimism, noting that the country had reached its best position ever based on “unprecedented reforms.”
Reported by Thiha Tun for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.