Po­etic jus­tice as po­ets be­come law­mak­ers

Mizzima Business Weekly - - CONTENTS - Phyo Thiha Cho

Since colo­nial days, Myan­mar’s po­ets have put pen to pa­per to ex­press the mood of the peo­ple, de­scrib­ing their tri­als and tribu­la­tions through verse as the coun­try en­dured one po­lit­i­cal up­heaval af­ter an­other.

From Thakhin Ko Daw Hmaing, whose prose in­spired pro-in­de­pen­dence lead­ers when the coun­try was un­der Bri­tish rule, to Min Ko Naing, a prom­i­nent ac­tivist who emerged from the 1988 stu­dent protests, po­ets have long been cen­tral to dis­si­dent causes, whether op­pos­ing colo­nial over­lords or mil­i­tary dic­ta­tors.

Now, the time has come for po­ets to go from writ­ing verse to draft­ing laws.

The op­po­si­tion Na­tional League for Democ­racy (NLD) won a land- slide vic­tory in Myan­mar’s his­toric elec­tions on Nov. 8 and among its 800-odd law­mak­ers in the new na­tional and state and re­gional par­lia­ments are 11 well-known bards.

In­stead of work­ing with words and feel­ings, and turn­ing out heart-rend­ing prose, they will be faced with more mun­dane tasks such as fa­mil­iaris­ing them­selves with tax leg­is­la­tion and state and re­gional bud­gets.

It re­mains to be seen how th­ese po­ets, who honed their craft vividly de­scrib­ing the strug­gles of or­di­nary peo­ple un­der the junta, will ac­cli­ma­tise to their new role as politi­cians when they take their seats in par­lia­ment on Jan. 31.

Ac­ci­den­tal par­lia­men­tar­i­ans

Than Aung, whose pen name is Ani Htet, has reser­va­tions about his

new job.

He won a Lower House seat to rep­re­sent Nga­putaw Town­ship in Aye­yarwaddy Re­gion, but told Myan­mar Now he en­joys be­ing a vil­lage school­teacher and a writer. But the state of the coun­try and the needs of the peo­ple drove him into pol­i­tics, he said.

“I never dreamt of be­com­ing a mem­ber of par­lia­ment. I had al­ways thought I was go­ing to spend my life as a sim­ple teacher and poet,” he said in a tele­phone in­ter­view.

An­a­lysts and los­ing can­di­dates from the rul­ing Union Sol­i­dar­ity and De­vel­op­ment Party (USDP) have raised ques­tions over the abil­ity of po­ets to be­come good par­lia­men­tar­i­ans.

USDP law­maker Hla Swe, who lost his Up­per House seat to an

NLD can­di­date in Sa­gaing Re­gion, be­lieves it would take time for po­ets, with their artis­tic tem­per­a­ments, to get used to par­lia­men­tary pro­cesses such as time lim­its in tabling mo­tions, he said.

“They would have to try hard. Their mother has threat­ened to pun­ish them if they don’t. It’s their mother’s re­spon­si­bil­ity if they don’t try,” he said, re­fer­ring to party leader Aung San Suu Kyi, of­ten called Amay (Mother) Suu by party mem­bers.

Per­haps the most fa­mous ex­am­ple of a dis­si­dent writer and poet turned politi­cian was Vá­clav Havel, who was pres­i­dent of the Czech Repub­lic for a decade af­ter the Vel­vet Revo­lu­tion top­pled Com­mu­nism in 1989.

Ani Htet said he has al­ready started preparing for life in par­lia­ment, study­ing laws and plan­ning on tabling mo­tions to amend some and en­act new ones. First, he said, he wants to tackle laws on ed­u­ca­tion and me­dia.

“It’s not easy to be a rep­re­sen­ta­tive in par­lia­ment. I’m try­ing my best to study and pre­pare my­self so what I do there will ben­e­fit the coun­try,” he said.

A multi-hy­phen­ated poet

The NLD’s Kyaw Zin Lin beat Thar Aye, in­cum­bent chief min­is­ter of Sa­gaing Re­gion, for a re­gional par­lia­men­tary seat in Bu­talin Town­ship. Bet­ter known by his nom de plume Zay Linn Mg, the 33-year-old lyri­cist is also a med­i­cal doc­tor.

“I would ac­tu­ally pre­fer be­ing a po­lit­i­cal ac­tivist rather than a for- mal par­lia­men­tar­ian be­cause you have the free­dom to say what you want. Now I’ll have to be faith­ful to the party’s poli­cies,” he said of his new job.

Al­though slightly chaf­ing at the thought of hav­ing to give up his free­doms, he also said he’s ready to take on the new role and al­ready has his eyes on re­form­ing the com­plex bu­reau­cratic mech­a­nism within the re­gional par­lia­ment so that it be­comes more demo­cratic.

One of his po­lit­i­cal dreams, he said, was to get the of­fi­cials of the pow­er­ful Gen­eral Ad­min­is­tra­tive Depart­ment demo­crat­i­cally elected, since they play a key role in the coun­try’s wider ad­min­is­tra­tive mech­a­nism down to the town­ship level.

Cur­rently, the depart­ment is un­der the Min­istry of Home Af­fairs which, ac­cord­ing to the 2008 Con­sti­tu­tion, is headed by a mil­i­tary gen­eral and con­trolled by the army chief.

“Only the vil­lage and ward-level of­fi­cials are di­rectly elected by the peo­ple, but the re­gional and town­ship level ad­min­is­tra­tive of­fi­cials are di­rectly ap­pointed by the Min­istry of Home Af­fairs. So we need to change that for bet­ter gov­er­nance,” he said.

Great expectations

Myan­mar’s po­ets have long por­trayed the des­ti­tute and down­trod­den through their art, and have a good sense of the needs of the peo­ple, said fe­male writer Thwe Sa­gaing, voic­ing sup­port for her fel­low artists.

“The po­ets have al­ways stood with the op­pressed. So we are con­fi­dent that they will be able to work for the pub­lic,” she said.

Mi Chan Wai, an­other writer, said the po­ets-turned-MPs are cre­ative thinkers who will be able to bring new ideas and con­cepts to oth­er­wise dull par­lia­men­tary pro­ce­dures.

“I be­lieve that we will be able to ful­fil th­ese expectations as we po­ets have al­ways fought for the truth,” said Tint Lwin, elected as a law­maker for the Yan­gon Re­gion par­lia­ment for the NLD.

The writer, who writes un­der the name Maung Lwin Mon (Kathar), used to make a liv­ing work­ing for a state-owned bank, but lost his job for join­ing demon­stra­tors in the 1988 up­ris­ing against mil­i­tary rule.

He con­tin­ued to be in­volved in pol­i­tics and was later jailed for his dis­si­dent ac­tiv­i­ties.

In a poem cel­e­brat­ing Aung San Suu Kyi’s 66th birth­day, which fell a few months af­ter the Nov. 2010 elec­tions and her release from house ar­rest, he called her “mother” and com­pared her to a rose.

“Be­cause of your teach­ings, us, your sons and daugh­ters, who are eas­ily afraid and bereft of rea­son­ing, are now full of strength and brav­ery,” he wrote.

“We have cho­sen to be po­ets and MPs at the same time, we hope we can find the right bal­ance be­tween th­ese two modes of life,” he told Myan­mar Now.

U Tint Lwin, NLD mem­ber of Par­lia­ment. Photo: Myan­mar Now

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