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DVB Debate: Is it possible to be a leader without joining the military?

In this week’s episode of DVB Debate, the panel reflects on the legacy of General Aung San, the man revered as the father of modern Burma.

Aung San is remembered as both a shrewd politician as well as a military tactician. The man who founded Burma’s national army is also responsible for peacefully negotiating a 1947 London agreement that paved the way for Burmese self-rule one year later.

But Aung San, still known affectionately as Bogyoke, meaning General, was never to know the Burma that he was so pivotal in creating. Aung San was assassinated in 1947 at the behest of political rival U Saw.

Aung San is embodies the sort of political leader that many in the country still cry out for. Yet his legacy is one deeply rooted in  Burmese militarism, which has taken on a dark tone after decades of totalitarian rule in the country.

As a government formed almost entirely from former military personnel leads Burma towards elections at the end of this year, the DVB Debate panel questions whether it is possible to be a leader in Burma without joining the military.

Magazine editor Lay Ko Tin believes that Aung San’s memory continues to inspire individuals, but that the General was a special case.

“Nowadays, even though someone like Aung San appears, he or she cannot be exactly like him.”

Aung San forged a powerful link between university and national politics, as a leading student unionist and editor of the Rangoon University magazine Peacock’s Call.

As students again mobilize to take control of their own educations, Khant Wai Hein, Secretary of Rangoon University Students Union, believes that there is no reason why his generation cannot mirror their hero.

“If we follow exactly Bogyoke’s spirit and Bogyoke’s words, why can’t we be like him?”

Lin Tun, a young member of Burma’s ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party, believes that if Burma is going to continue with reforms ushered in by his party in 2010, the people of Burma need to embrace change.

“If we want change; if we want a good leader like Bogyoke, [young men such as myself] need to change too.”

But what of the role of Burma’s ethnic people in the political life of the country? One third of the country’s population is made up from over one hundred different ethnic groups. Is it possible for an ethnic figurehead to feature of the national stage?


“There are many ethnic youths with [Aung San’s] spirit,” affirmed human rights activist Cheery Zahau. “But it will be very difficult for them to become leader of the nation, it is about the opportunity.”

Writer Kaung Thant believes there is no hindrance for ethnic politicians and activists.

“If someone is smart like Bogyoke, he or she can be a leader, whether Kachin, Chin, Shan, Kayah or Bamar.”

Burma’s parliament remains dominated by the military, with 25 percent of seats allocated to army MPs. Burma’s current president, Thein Sein as well as a series presidential hopefuls, including Shwe Mann and Htay Oo have their roots in the army. Current Commander-in-Chief Min Aung Hlaing is also thought to be in the running for Burma’s top job at the end of this year. Audience member Aye Mya Mya Myo asked the rhetorical question; “Is it possible to be a leader today without joining the army?”



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