Myanmar's military regime says it's making way for democracy, but this activist says freedom is a long way off

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Carol Hills: I’m Carol hills with The World. President Obama is now in Myanmar. The president flew there after wrapping up his visit to China. This Obama’s second time in the country, also known as Burma. He first went there in 2012 to try and spur the Burmese government’s gradual opening towards democracy. Zin Mar Aung is political activist from Myanmar. She was imprisoned for 11 years for her involvement in the country’s pro-democracy movement prior to her release in 2009. She’s been in the US for the past few weeks and she says Burmese are not as encouraged about the pace of reform as they were during Obama’s first visit.

 

Zin Mar Aung: Seriously, this time is quite different. Before President Obama’s visit in 2012, we could see some kinds of political liberalizations in our country. For example, like releasing political prisoners. But after 2012 and up until now, we haven’t seen any liberalizations. The most important thing is that before the 2015 general elections, we need to amend the 2008 constitution first. If not, our reform will not be a democratic one, because the military is still getting veto power over each and every sector or institution. They are still influencing our country’s critical institutions, like even in business and administration and parliament

 

Hills: Would amending the constitution take the military out of the equation?

 

Zin Mar Aung: Yeah, we need to have the professional military if we really want to be a democratic country. So, if we would like to avoid confrontations, we need to consider “How can we amend the constitution and the parliament?”

 

Hills: And by reducing the role of the military, opposition candidates and other parties will have a stronger role to play and can take more of an active role in the political life of Myanmar?

 

Zin Mar Aung: Yeah.

 

Hills: Will Aung San Suu Kyi be able to run for president in that election? Or is that still uncertain?

 

Zin Mar Aung: That’s why we are talking about amending the constitution first. If not, the 2015 election will not be a free and fair election.

 

Hills: You were punished for activism in Burma in 1998. You were 22, you were put in prison; I think 9 years of that were spent in solitary. Tell us what you were doing, what kind of political activism you were involved in at the time you were arrested and put in prison?

 

Zin Mar Aung: Since 1998, the military coup, we were under the military regime, so that’s why we delivered the message to the public and also to the regime. “The military regime is not legitimate anymore.”

 

Hills: So, you were trying to deliver a message saying “You’re not legitimate because you didn’t allow the democratic process in 1990?”

 

Zin Mar Aung: Yes, of course. At the same time, we demanded the release of political prisoners and also students who were arrested and in the prisons.

 

Hills: I want to go back to President Obama and his trip. Are you worried that President Obama’s visit will be celebrated by the regime and they’ll sort of co-opt it as an event that legitimizes them?

 

Zin Mar Aung: Yes, of course. After President Obama’s first visit, especially the ordinary people, their daily life has not changed much and they don’t get to enjoy the democracy, the human rights and the freedom. So, we still need to be engaged to get our dreams.

 

Hills: Political activist Zin Mar Aung of Burma, she was imprisoned for 11 years in Myanmar. She’s now a fellow at the National Endowment for Democracy. Thank you so much.

 

Zin Mar Aung: Thank you.