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The Journal Gazette

  • Vahnie

  • Rachel Von | The Journal Gazette Portrait of Kyaw T. Soe at Northside High School on Friday. Soe is assistant teacher for the English Language Learner (ELL) program at Northside. Soe started a literacy program for young Burmese students 11 years ago and now students that were in his program are getting college credit at IPFW.

Saturday, November 14, 2015 10:09 pm

Hope abounds locally

The Nov. 8 election in Myanmar was watched closely in Indiana, home to thousands of Burmese refugees. Here are the reactions some members of the Burmese community – and one Indiana journalist – had to the outcome:

"The elections offer a historic opportunity for change. The post-election period offers a historic opportunity for Burma/Myanmar, and the onus is on President Thein Sein and Senior General Min Aung Hlaing to ensure that the results expressed through the elections are honored and the country moves forward to federalist democracy. In doing so, they could leave a distinctive legacy for the country and its people.

"I am sure Daw Suu (Aung San Suu Kyi) will be continuing to send a message of national reconciliation, especially to the military to eliminate antagonism and possible fear of retribution, which could be taken as reason to cause instability and revert to the ‘dark days,’ as she has in recent weeks openly reiterated that she would prioritize national reconciliation and ethnic harmony by working together with the military, holding no grudges."

– Elaisa Vahnie, native of Myanmar and executive director of the Burmese American Community Institute in Indianapolis. Leader of the Chin community in central Indiana, he earned a master’s in public administration in policy analysis and comparative international affairs from Indiana University-Bloomington.

"This election is a step closer to the conclusion of half a century-long struggle to restore democracy. One remarkable aspect of the election is that the situation gives a great chance to ex-generals and the Burmese Army to earn respect from the people again. We are back in the same situation as we were in 1990. But, unlike in 1990, by honoring the election result, the ex-generals could get credit as true reformists. 

"In my hometown, Taunggyi, capital of Shan State, candidates from the ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) won seats for upper house and regional parliaments while NLD own only one seat for the lower house. I followed the result of every vote station in town. Early results were crystal clear that the overwhelming majority voted in favor of NLD candidates, but due to a significant number of advance ballots from the army and nearby villages that came in after the poll closed, Union Election Commission declares a win for USDP candidates. Villages were manipulated and they voted in favor of USDP under threat from armed forces. The same situation puts back current Vice President Dr. Sai Mauk Kham into the lower house."  

– Ye Win Latt, who moved to Fort Wayne in 2008, holds degrees from Indiana University-Bloomington and Indiana Wesleyan University. He is a member of the leadership group for the new Masjid Noor ul-Islam mosque on Seddlemeyer Avenue.

"I am very delighted for the election results so far. The impact will shape the future to Burma both internally and externally. Internally, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s leadership will lead Burma to an open society, peace with ethnic minority groups, joy in the democracy and resolve many issues. Externally, Burma will not only be able to catch up the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and ASEAN Economic Community(AEC) but begin to be important key player between the east (China) and the west (United States)." 

– Kyaw T. Soe, native of Myanmar and founder and instructor of the New Immigrant Literacy Program at IPFW. His literacy work in Fort Wayne was mentioned by Suu Kyi in a 2011 radio address from Myanmar.

 "It’s always useful to remember that Myanmar is a country of something like 30 million people and nearly 100 different ethnic groups. Under those circumstances, building a nation that respects and values diversity is going to be a challenge. It’s also going to require patience.

"While I share concern that the Rohingya were essentially shut out of the election, I’ve been irked to read glib Internet comments that dismiss the vote because of that flaw.

"Elections are seldom perfect, as our track record in the U.S. would attest. It took us more than a century before women were allowed to vote, and Jim Crow laws lingered well into my lifetime. Vote repression continues to be an issue today.

"So by those standards, I’d give the Myanmar election a passing grade with a note: ‘Needs improvement.’

"And I’ll keep my fingers crossed for the next chapter."

– Jack Ronald was a Fulbright specialist in Yangon in 2012, where he conducted election coverage training for a couple of dozen journalists, with whom he continues to keep in contact. Ronald is president and publisher of the Commercial-Review in Portland.