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Churches skeptical of Suu Kyi’s overtures

Mandalay (UCAN): Church personnel in the heavily Christian Kayah state of the Union of Myanmar expressed scepticism at overtures from Nobel Peace Prize laureate, Aung San Suu Kyi, during a September 11 visit to drum up support for candidates in the upcoming elections in November.

The vicar general of Loikaw diocese, Father Celso Ba Shwe, said that Suu Kyi urged people to vote according to party lines, because “the party who wins will help the development of ethnic areas and protect their rights.”

Father Shwe recalled that in the 2010 elections Christian candidates from the ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party failed to follow through on promises of development for ethnic majority areas because they did not receive support from party leaders.

“I have (doubts about how) the big parties would carry out the development of ethnic areas, ethnic rights and equality if they win,” he said.

The National League boycotted the 2010 polls, but won dozens of seats in 2012 by-elections.

Politicians are realising that Christian leaders have influence over followers in many remote areas of eastern Myanmar, which is shaping up to be a key electoral battleground.

At a meeting with Church personnel, Suu Kyi ranged across topics from federalism to ethnic rights, to her party’s overall goal of capturing a majority in the parliament, before engaging in a question-and-answer session.

Among those present were Bishop Stephen Tjephe, from Loikaw, as well as retired Bishop Sotero Phamo.

They were joined by British Bishop John Arnold, from Salford, who was leading a retreat for the priests of the diocese.

Father Francis Mireh, the diocesan procurator, said, “We expect to have real change, but I don’t have high expectations (of) Suu Kyi, because I need to wait and see how she would carry out... ethnic rights practically.”

He added, “Personally, I want our ethnic parties to win in the November polls because they know the reality of ethnic areas.” 


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