The Nation



We need reforms, not hype - Suu Kyi

Economic growth is no guarantee of democratic progress, opposition leader tells business conference in Singapore

Economic growth alone will not ensure Myanmar's democratic transition, opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi said in her first public speech in Singapore, making an impassioned plea for further political reforms and national reconciliation.

Speaking at the two-day Singapore Summit attended by business and financial leaders, she repeatedly emphasised that Myanmar's Constitution has to be amended to ensure an independent judiciary and the rule of law.

Suu Kyi also cautioned against an overly optimistic assessment of the economic climate in Myanmar, pointing out that the country still lacked a strong legal framework to protect investments, and that long-simmering ethnic tension remain unresolved.

"Nobody wants to invest in a country that is not at peace. Peace and prosperity can be obtained only if we, the people, decide that we can do it together and must do it together," she said.

"This is why, when we talk about transition, we have to start with national reconciliation. No transition of any kind can succeed in Burma unless we can forge unity out of the great diversity which is the richness of our country."

Myanmar launched a series of economic and political reforms beginning in late 2010, including the release of Suu Kyi from long-time house arrest, raising hopes that the reclusive country was opening up after decades of authoritarian rule. But solutions to political differences and ethnic tension remain elusive.

One major source of tension is the ongoing sectarian clashes which have killed more than 200 people and displaced about 150,000 mainly minority Bengali Muslims.

Asked how Asean could help with this issue, Suu Kyi said it could show greater understanding and refrain from criticising one ethnic group or religion over another.

The first step in addressing the problem, she said, is to establish the rule of law. "If people are frightened that they will be killed, or that their houses will be burned down above their heads, you will not be able to persuade them to sit down and sort out their differences," said Suu Kyi.

At the summit, top business executives asked whether they should wait until political and legal conditions improved before investing further in Myanmar.

Suu Kyi said they should not stop investing, but do so with an eye towards lifting the lives of ordinary Myanmar nationals.

Above all, she noted in her conclusion, investors and the international community can help Myanmar best by being honest.

Suu Kyi said: "It is not by painting an overly optimistic picture of our country that you can help us. It is only by being realistic about what we need to do that you will be able to help us."

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