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TAUNGOO, Pegu Division — Hundreds of party faithful rallied at a staging grounds in Taungoo on Saturday morning in a show of support for beleaguered State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi, the National League for Democracy’s longtime figurehead.
Civil society organisations and the township NLD office trucked in locals from surrounding villages to Maida grounds, with most of the crowd donning party merchandise and flags.
While party officials, police and local authorities watched the festivities from a shaded tent, residents sung along to revolutionary music and listened to a handful of speakers.
They told DVB that “Amay Suu” has their unwavering support, and touted democratic reforms that have taken place since she led her party to a landslide election victory in November 2015.
Nann Khin Htwe Kyi, who travelled from Pyu Township for the event, was unequivocal about her admiration for Burma’s de facto civilian leader.
“I support Mother Suu. … Speaking about change after NLD won the election, I would say that I am happier now. I am satisfied with the current government,” she said.
A fellow villager who did not give his name chimed in to describe Suu Kyi’s performance as “absolutely flawless.”
“I told the people in my neighbourhood that there is a rally taking place in Taungoo to show support to Mother Suu. All the actions she has undertaken are flawless. We absolutely trust her.”
The international community initially lauded the elevation of Suu Kyi to the helm of government almost as feverishly as her domestic supporters. But the latest crisis in Arakan State, which the UN has described as ethnic cleansing of the Rohingya Muslim minority, has seen her reputation tarnish swiftly.
Increased clashes in northern Shan and Kachin states, and a sputtering peace process, have been persistent thorns in her side.
Human rights watchers have accused the NLD government, which highlighted its credentials as a pro-democracy alternative to the then ruling, military-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party during the 2015 campaign period, of tacitly allowing the military to commit widespread human rights abuses against the Rohingya.
But its problems don’t just lie in the isolated frontiers of ethnic conflict. Journalists in the country’s major cities have been targeted with a slew of litigation from civilians and military officers.
In the 16-plus months of this government’s tenure, the regressive article 66(d) of the Telecommunications Act, a defamation clause, has been brought against media workers more times than under the entire five-year term of the previous administration.
The media community has accused the NLD government of backsliding on freedom of expression — a charge San Tun Aung, a secretary of the party’s Taungoo chapter, declined to respond to after espousing the increased freedoms ushered in by his party.
“There are a lot of changes after NLD came into power. Now everyone can freely assemble here in this ground. In terms of freedom of expression, we can see the change.”
“I heard the news [about defamation charges] but I do not want to comment on that,” he said.
Many of the rally attendees said they didn’t understand why the government was copping backlash abroad. In any case, they said, their event was intended as a simple gesture of support for Suu Kyi.
But San Tun Aung was aware of the criticism flowing in against his party’s leader, and said the government would “continue to enforce its own policy.”
“It is the right of the international community to criticise the government. It is about their ‘freedom of expression.’ So, I do not want to make further comments on international criticism,” he said.