BURMA/MYANMAR: Myanmar's 'Three Princesses' on the Warpath--Former Prime Ministers' Daughters to Take on Junta in Upcoming Elections

Saturday, July 24, 2010
South Eastern Asia
PeaceWomen Consolidated Themes: 

A lifetime of frustration in politics in Myanmar has not tired Ms Cho Cho Kyaw Nyein. Neither have the years as a political prisoner blunted her sense of humour.

"Some people call us the 'three princesses of Myanmar', but to the government, we are the three witches," she laughed. The "princesses" - Ms Cho, Ms Nay Ye Ba Swe, and Ms Mya Than Than Nu - are too old for fairy tales, she says.

They are princesses because their fathers were all Prime Ministers of Myanmar, part of the revered generation that fought for, and in 1948 won, freedom from British rule before it was snatched away again in a military coup in 1962.

The daughters have been friends since childhood, and have remained a part of each others' lives despite long years in prison and exile. All are free now, though they are constantly watched and regularly harassed by the military's special branch and its network of spies.

The fourth daughter alongside whom they grew up, Myanmar's most famous democracy activist, Ms Aung San Suu Kyi, remains under house arrest.

"She is like a sister to us," Ms Cho says. "Our fathers were the best of friends with Suu's father."

The daughters see themselves as carrying on their families' work nearly 50 years later, fighting for democracy in a country that has known it for only 14 short years in its troubled history.

They have announced their candidacy as secretaries-general of the newly-formed Democratic Party, and will stand in this year's promised elections.

Their "sister" Ms Suu Kyi will not have her name on a ballot paper due to electoral laws that appear to have been deliberately written to exclude her.

It is a hopeless fight, and they know it: Three women, backed by a hastily created, barely funded party against the might of a military junta which has ruled Myanmar with an iron fist for 48 years.

But they spend their days knocking on village doors, trying to convince people of the importance not just of voting for them, but of voting at all.

"People are very scared of politicians ... They say it is safer to stay away from the politicians, or they will be bullied by the government," said Ms Cho.

"I said: 'you've got to know this is your right' ... we have been living under these rules and hardships under the military regime for so long ... but this is the right time."

This year's poll, the first in 20 years, has been condemned internationally as a sham rigged to entrench military rule. But the daughters hope the ballot will be the first step in a gradual move to democracy.

Change in Myanmar will be slow, said Ms Nay. "To establish a credible democratic system will take a decade or more. We need to go slowly, step by step, because we know we are facing a very tough situation. THE GUARDIAN