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Cathie Rowand | The Journal Gazette
IPFW’s new immigrant literacy program director, Kyaw Soe, holds Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy political party flags.

Locally, exuberance mixes with distrust of the regime

Kyaw Soe woke up early Sunday at his home in Fort Wayne to check for election results out of his native country.

It was 8:40 a.m. when he learned the news he wanted to hear: Aung San Suu Kyi, a celebrated champion for democracy and a former political prisoner, had won enough votes for a seat in Myanmar’s parliament.

“This election is like a founding father for the democracy,” he said.

Kyaw Soe, who coordinates the new immigrant literacy program at IPFW, was one of many in the city’s 3,800-strong Burmese community who had Suu Kyi’s election on their minds Sunday.

“I feel sorry that I not a part of it. I out here, I not over there,” he said. “I want to be a part of it. That’s a history-making moment.”

Ko Ye, 46, said he believes Suu Kyi’s win may mean that economic sanctions on Myanmar – formerly Burma – will be lifted. But he doubts that other types of progress will come right away, considering that the ruling party holds most of the seats in parliament.

“In the parliament, we are few people. In the parliament, we need a next step,” he said.

Cho Too, 43, said that next step will have to wait until Myanmar’s 2015 ballot. For now, he said, much depends on what Suu Kyi does with her new power. He hopes she will seek reform and foster unity.

Although pleased with her election, Cho Too is still suspicious of the results.

“I don’t believe in the current government … because they always lie,” he said.

For Kyaw Soe, it was no surprise that Suu Kyi managed a victory despite the country’s reputation of repression. He noted that she ran for president in 1990 and gained strong support among the people.

In 1988, when Kyaw Soe was a student leader in Myanmar, he met Suu Kyi and developed an admiration for her. Now in Fort Wayne, he organizes an annual literacy fair in her honor.

“She’s very, very noble woman, very sincere,” he said. “Everything she do is good for the Burma.”