Categories: world

Lost idol: New wave of Myanmar youth activists looks beyond Suu Kyi

YANGON (Reuters) – Myanmar youth activist and television host Thinzar Shun Lei Yi would once have called one of Aung…

YANGON (Reuters) – Myanmar youth activist and television host Thinzar Shun Lei Yi would once have called one of Aung San Suu Kyi’s biggest fans. Now she is one of her most vocal critics.

PHILPHOTO: Myanmar press freedom advocates and youth activists are holding a demonstration requiring release of captive Reuters journalists Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo in Yangon, Myanmar, September 1

6, 2018. REUTERS / Ann Wang / Filfoto

The 27-year-old belongs to a small but high-profile group of liberal activists, many former dead Suu Kyi supporters, growing increasingly disillusioned with the administration, which they voted in force with high hopes three years ago.

“I lost my idol, I’m confused, frustrated and lost,” said Thinzar Shun Lei Yi, who hosts an “Under 30” presentation on a popular local website.

“Most activists and young people now think:” What’s next “,” What’s going to happen? “,” What can we do? “At this stage, Daw Aung goes to San Suu Kyi on his own way and no one can intervene, and she will not listen to civil society organizations,” she said, using the Honorary for Women in Myanmar.

While Suu Kyi continues to inspire devotion among many common Burmese, the emergence of a deviant youth movement – driven by anger over her management of ethnic minorities, including Muslim rohingya, as well as media and civil society challenges – presents a new challenge for her administration.

At stake, the future of Myanmar’s transition to democracy after years of military rule. With a general election flowing in 2020, the country’s first civilian government is confronted with decades of growing divisions among activists who once gathered around her National League for Democracy Party.

NLD spokesman Myo Nyunt said that the party tried to win over youth and increased the budget for education and support vocational training programs.

“The youth and the people were expecting much of our government,” he said. “We could not live up to their expectations, we admit. But we do our best.”

Suu Kyi took power in 2016 after a war of war, vowing to continue democratic reforms and ending the country’s long-standing civil war.

Since then, the administration has been under pressure on its response to a military contest against the Rohingya minority described by the United Nations as ethnic cleansing with “genocide intent”, as well as rapid peace talks with ethnic armed groups and a stagnant economy.


Activists say that the civilian government has become increasingly authoritative and failed to use its overwhelming parliamentary majority to scrape the laws of colonial times used to stifle deviations and tight restrictions on civil society.

In recent months, they have organized several protests, including a war march in the commercial capital of Yangon in May that ended in gossip. A total of 17 people were charged with illegal protests, including Thinzar Shun Lei Yi. Their attempts are ongoing.

“Sensitive issues are forbidden, and protesters arrested and beaten,” she said. “The Democratic National League, the party that uses the name of democracy, must respect democracy and human rights.”

According to the Athan Freedom Conference Organization, which means “Voice” in Burmese, 44 journalists and 142 activists have met trial since the Suu Kyi government took power.

The founder, poet and activist, Maung Saung Kha, is one of them. He was also among the protesters charged with Thinzar Shun Lei Yi in May. Four months later, in September, they both helped organize another demonstration, this time for freedom of speech.

In front of the audience, Maung Saung Kha – who is still a NLD member – donned the orange shirt traditionally used by his party’s legislature and killed a green jacket resembling a military shirt over it. Armed with a copy of the Daily Mirror The Mirror, he began to hit journalists gathered nearby.

“The government has failed to use its power to protect human rights,” he told Reuters.

Myo Nyunt, party spokesman, said the government cooperated with non-governmental organizations, but their activities had to be investigated on a case by case basis.

“If it’s not related to security or not a shattering issue among ethnics, we accept them,” he said. “We are moving forward to democracy to recognize non-governmental organizations, but we are concerned that NGOs are influenced by sponsors instead of being independent.”


While she has no control over the military, Suu Kyi has encountered international criticism for failing to defend Rohingya, of whom more than 730,000 fled a sweeping army crackdown in Western Rakhine state in 2017, according to UN agencies. The demolition was launched as a result of rebellious Rohingya attacks on security forces.

Myanmar denies almost all allegations of cruelty that refugees have made and says the army is carrying out a legitimate campaign against terrorists.

While many of Myanmar’s Buddhist majority deny Rohingya, the young activists offer a rare sympathetic voice.

“We acknowledge Rohingya. We totally condemn the fact that they are called” Bengali, “said Maung Saung Kha, referring to a term commonly used in Myanmar to suggest that Rohingya is interlopers from Bangladesh, despite a long history in the country.

“We have not seen any confirmation or punishment for the things that happened,” he said. “The refugees will not return as long as these people think of them as less than people and that it is not a crime to kill them. “

Khin Sandar, another young activist against illegal protest charges, spent months fighting for NLD before the election of 2015 but lost his faith in Suu Kyi over her management of the Rakhine crisis.

Her Family suffered a violence of municipal violence in 2012, not only Rohingya, but also members of the Camban Muslim minority who are also discriminated against, but, contrary to Rohingya, they consider s like Myanmar citizens were driven from their homes. They live in tight internal migration camps outside of Rakhine’s capital, Sittwe, and are subjected to severe movement restrictions.

In a speech after last year’s violence, Suu Kyi said that all residents of Rakhine “have access to education and health care without discrimination”.

“My own nephew and niches still live in the Sittwe camp and they do not have the rights,” said Khin Sandar. “I was shocked. How can she say that in her speech?” Afterwards, she said that she quit her job as a researcher for an NLD lawmaker.

While youth activists only represent a small segment of Myanmar society, they become increasingly influential in the grassroots activism scene, while their protests and public comments have attracted great attention from the media and from their major social media.

Slideshow (2 Images)

Most of the 20s and 30s mark the bay between Myanmar’s young people – the median age is 27 – and its aging leadership, consisting of mostly men in the 60s and 70s languages.

“Myanmar is a very conservative country, these young people, especially from Yangon, are now challenging it,” says Myat Thu, a political analyst from the Yangon School of Political Science.

“To get a revolution of ideas, not many people need to know. They will spread it gradually.”

Reporting by Shoon Naing and Poppy McPherson; Editing Alex Richardson

Our Standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

Published by