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Dawn of a new hope for Myanmar

By Syed Ahmad Idid
August 20, 2015

MYANMAR remembers the almost annual catastrophes of cyclones, landslides and floods, which take hundreds of thousands of lives. And this year, thousands have died in its worst-ever floods in decades.

A cyclone in 1968 killed 837, and Cyclone Mala, in April 2006, and Akash, in 2007, together with floods in 2011 and 2012, caused huge losses of lives and destruction of agricultural land. In 2008, Cyclone Nargis killed 138,000 people, although the real number may be about 200,000.

When Myanmar was hit by the cyclone, Bangladesh and Malaysia, with the United Kingdom, United States and Italy, sent emergency aid and personnel to rescue victims. Myanmar could see that Christian and Muslim countries rushed to help. People just wanted to live in decency and tranquility. 

The student demonstrations, which culminated on Aug 8, 1988, caused more than 3,000 protesters to be killed, 3,000 more were imprisoned and more than 10,000 fled the country. Many celebrate the anniversary (8.8.88) with prayers and by placing flowers in their homes. 

This was followed by the Saffron protest in September 2007, where people and monks rose against the junta again. Myanmar had to kill its own people, who were unarmed and wanted only democracy and friendship among its citizens and others. 

My suspicion is that the cries against the Rohingyas/Muslims has been, and is, nothing more than to rally Buddhists, instil fear in them so they unite and vote for new Buddhist leaders. It is all politics. 

Once the government can rise above this hurdle, Myanmar will surely achieve peace, and this can attract foreign investments to develop the country. Eureka!

The NLD party, led by democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi, is still dominated by old leaders, and naturally, it has an “old thinking”. It can help Myanmar by bringing in younger leaders, especially those with better education (in military, diplomacy and world view) who are exposed to the world outside their country.

I recall that Asean invited Myanmar to join it in order to “engage with it” so that it can become truly regional. 

When Daw Suu enters Parliament with sufficient followers, plus enlightened military parliamentarians and monks with genuine Buddhist qualities, Myanmar will immediately go good. All citizens and residents of whatever religion or sect, be they Buddhists, Hindus, Christians and Muslims, will live together in peace, harmony and prosperity.

Naturally, the country must get rid of racial and religious fanatics, who lead mobs, extremists and those who incite discord. I have mentioned two, and both of them, it is alleged, were born on inauspicious dates. So, if they can rid themselves of the bad karma, both can be a force for respecting all religions. They can turn into respectable leaders and be recognised as Myanmar’s saviours instead of destroyers of a nation.

Actually, both the Buddhists and Muslims share one healthy practice: they take off their shoes before entering their houses of worship. When we see a common practice, we should celebrate it.

Retired Malaysian ambassador Datuk Redzuan Kushairi, writing as the Foreign Policy Study Group (FPSG) deputy chairman, has stated that the Myanmar government had initiated ceasefires and peace talks with a broad goal of achieving national reconciliation. 

“A coalition government of just the military, USDP (the ruling party) and NLD would not be inclusive enough,” he wrote. 

Myanmar requires the input and cooperation of its respective ethnic groups, including the Rohingyas, provincial parties and the youth. Once this can be forthcoming, Myanmar’s road to a united country is on her first step!

Myanmar is adjacent to the Indian state of Manipur. It and other countries with similar population mix may pay respects to the people and government of this part of the land. 

The majority are Hindus with a sprinkling of Muslims. The first Manipur state assembly was elected on adult franchise in July 1948, being the first of its kind in India.

The representatives returnable from the General, Hill and Muslim constituencies were in the ratios of 30:18:3. The governor, as of May 16, is Dr Syed Ahmed Syed Ali Naqi. 

What must be uppermost in the government’s policy is to place the most suitable leader, no matter what religion they embrace.

And only recently, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi signed an agreement with Bangladesh to settle border issues, which were in a limbo for 70 years. This resulted in Bangladesh and India swapping tiny parcels of land, whereon the dwellers were made happy. 

I wonder if Myanmar can let the Rohingyas stay safely in enclaves like the United States “reserved lands”. All can live well side by side. 

Myanmar must be proud of its new seat of government in Naypyidaw, which covers six times the size of New York City. 

At present, the huge buildings and the six- to 20-lane roads in the city seem empty. I hope with the November elections, and with fresh Buddhist-Muslim-Christian cooperation, the government can gain the respect of citizens and tourists.

No malice intended, but with prayers, many hope the “Seat of Kings” will not fail like Ozymandiasas, as recorded in the poem by Percy Bysshe Shelley.

Asean, the United Nations, the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation and many nations will be watching Myanmar’s election in November. 

I join the many to wish the president, the people, the MPs and other leaders good fortune, prosperity, peace and success. May your karma bring you safety and the goodwill you need.

The writer is a former judge of the High Courts of Borneo and Malaya

The Uppatasanti pagoda, a replica of Yangon’s famous Shwedagon pagoda, in Naypyidaw. Many nations will be watching Myanmar’s election in November. (Photo: AFP)

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