Thousands of people yesterday protested in eastern Myanmar against plans to name a bridge after Burmese State Councilor and Minister of Foreign Affairs Aung San Suu Kyi’s father, the latest flashpoint between her administration and the country’s ethnic minorities.
The issue highlights some of the deep distrust among Myanmar’s patchwork of minorities toward the Bamar ethnic majority from which Aung San Suu Kyi and most of the political establishment hail.
Thousands hit the streets yesterday in eastern Mon State, the biggest rally yet against plans to rename the local Thanlwin Bridge spanning the Salween River.
Lawmakers from Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) have proposed calling it the Bogyoke Aung San bridge, after her father, Aung San, seen as the founder of post-colonial Burma, who was assassinated before the country won its independence from Britain.
Many of those protesting said locals felt their wishes to keep the old name were being ignored.
“The NLD is powerful in the parliament and nowadays they can do whatever proposal as they like,” demonstrator Lin Htet, 34, said. “But for us and for all ethnic people, we value many things in our culture and they should listen what the local ethnics want.”
The fight over the bridge’s name is seen as more than just a symbolic designation, but part of a larger fight for ethnic self-determination.
Aung San is regarded as a national hero, especially among the Bamar majority, but many ethnic groups see him as a more controversial figure who failed to deliver on promises of greater autonomy and federalism for them.
Since winning a landslide election victory in late 2015 Aung San Suu Kyi has made it a flagship policy to find a lasting peace.
However, those efforts have been hampered by some of the worst fighting in decades which has flared, particularly in the country’s northeast.