Residents of a coastal town in southern Myanmar’s Tanintharyi region demanded Wednesday that State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi take action against their government over complaints about corruption and poor administration by removing the chief minister and the minister of planning and finance.
During a three-day visit to the far-flung region, people at a gathering in the coastal town of Myeik asked her to fire Chief Minister Le Le Maw on grounds that she has abused her powers and has practiced nepotism in approving tenders for business opportunities that would make her relatives wealthy.
Le Le Maw is under investigation by Myanmar’s Anti-Corruption Commission, a 15-member body responsible for investigating graft allegations in the country.
Outside the hall, some people held signs calling for the removal of Planning and Finance Minister Phyo Win Tun and Aung Soe, chairman of the regional National League for Democracy (NLD), the country’s ruling party.
“I always take these matters [from people] seriously,” Aung San Suu Kyi, Myanmar’s de factor leader who will be up for reelection in next year’s general elections.
“As I said earlier, the reason I came here is to see things for myself,” she said.
Po Anm, a member of the pro-democracy 88 Generation Peace and Open Society group in Myeik district’s Kyunzu township, told RFA’s Myanmar Service that government officials have not responded properly to local complaints about corruption.
“Our complaints have been responded to wrongly, and the government machinery overall lacks efficiency,’ he said
“Please look carefully into our complaints and make decisions to bring the government machinery back onto the proper path,” he said, directing the comment to Aung San Suu Kyi.
Po Anm also said he was concerned that if the situation isn’t remedied, people could stop backing the NLD.
“We’re worried that the party will lose the trust and support of the people,” he said.
The state counselor responded that the purpose of her visit was to look into the complaints.
The NLD won all seats up for grabs in Tanintharyi in the last general elections in 2015, which the party won throughout the country by a landslide largely on the hopes the new government could tackle corruption and other economic and political problems that festered under decades of army rule.
“If all these wrongs can’t be corrected, then the NLD need not carry out any election campaign for 2020,” one senior citizen told Aung San Suu Kyi.
“The party needs to replace all the current cabinet members including Chief Minister Le Le Maw,” he added. “Only then will it be able to win the 2020 elections.”
Aung San Suu Kyi told the man that the NLD is “working in the interests of the country and not just to win the elections.”
The state counselor will visit other parts of Tanintharyi, including the towns of Dawei and Kawthaung, in the next two days.
Students sentenced in Mandalay region
Corruption accusations and charges against regional and state government officials who are members of the NLD is not the only issue that Aung San Suu Kyi must address before the 2020 elections.
She and other officials are grappling with other types of other discontent among citizens who are raising their voices in peaceful public protest over several issues and increasingly being given heavy-handed punishments for various offenses.
A court in Amarapura township of central Myanmar’s Mandalay region, for instance, sentenced seven students from Yadanabon University on Wednesday to jail terms, including hard labor, for demonstrating to demand better security services following a student’s murder near their campus, those who attended their sentencing said.
During the Dec. 28 protest, the students burned paper coffins and portraits of former NLD lawmaker and current Mandalay region Chief Minister Zaw Myint Maung, Myanmar’s security and home affairs ministers, and university rector Maung Maung Naing.
The township’s deputy police chief and the regional General Administration Department originally charged the students with criminal defamation under Section 505(b) of the Penal Code, arson under Section 435 of the Penal Code, and protesting without permission under Section 19 of the Peaceful Assembly and Peaceful Procession Act.
Zaw Myint Maung had earlier promised leniency on the case, and the court on Wednesday dismissed the charges under Section 505(b).
The students, however, were sentenced to three months in jail with hard labor for arson and two months in jail for protesting without permission, to be served concurrently.
Ye Myo Swe, one of the students, pledged to continue their demand for better security once they were released.
“The most important thing is the four suspects in the murder of student Soe Moe Hein are still at large,” he said, referring to the student who was killed on campus on Dec. 25. “So, forget about the rule of law, even those who are responsible for his murder remain at large,” he said. “It’s worse for our universities.”
“How is the regional government going to take responsibility and ensure accountability for the death of students?” Ye Myo Swe asked. “They have jailed us now, but when we are free, we will continue our demands.”
‘Protesting for their needs’
Dain Daung of the Former Political Prisoners Network said that the students did not commit destructive acts of arson.
“They were protesting for their needs,” he told RFA. “I realized that they were jailed because [the authorities were] not pleased with their protests.”
Not everyone agreed.
“I think the regional government had done its best,” said Thet Maung, a university student who attended the trial. “We have to recognize that. But what Ye Myo Swe said should be noted as well, and I share his view that security for students should be properly provided.”
On Tuesday, Myanmar police injured 21 ethnic Karenni protesters in eastern Myanmar’s Kayah state when they fired rubber bullets and a water cannon at them to break up a demonstration against the inauguration of a statue of independence hero General Aung San in a public park.
The protesters objected to the statue because Aung San, father of Aung San Suu Kyi, came from the ethnic Bamar majority that dominates the country and because they believe that the current government should focus on equal rights for ethnic minorities.
The demonstrators also called for the resignation of the eastern state’s chief minister and the minister of planning and finance, who local residents believe are responsible for the creating the discontent over the statue.
Reported by Kyaw Lwin Oo, Khaymani Win, and Kyaw Tun Naing for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Nandar Chann and Khin Maung Nyane. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.