Over 3,000 protesters converged Thursday near the Mon State Bridge to express their opposition to recent moves in the Union Parliament to rename the bridge. They were joined at the bridge, which connects Chaungzone Township to Mawlamyine, formerly known as Moulmein, by political, religious and civil society leaders.
At issue was a proposal to name the bridge for General Aung San, Burma’s independence leader who is known as the Father of the Nation. His assassination in 1947 is understood by many to have accelerated the ethnic conflicts that have plagued Burma since independence the following year. Many major roads, bridges and other civil structures throughout the country bare his name, yet for many, the agreements made between General Aung San and minority ethnic leaders remain broken promises.General Aung San’s daughter, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, now serves as State Counselor and leads the National League for Democracy (NLD), which holds a majority of seats in parliament.
There has been broad opposition to the name change since Paung Township NLD representative Mi Kon Chan first introduced a proposal to discuss it in the Pyi Thu Hluttaw, the lower house of the Union Parliament. Residents say the proposal from the Mon State representative ignores the wishes of area residents, who want a name that better reflects the Mon character of the area.
Protesters expressed their dissatisfaction with the Pyithu Hluttaw’s February 28 decision to discuss the proposal.
“I am here to demand that the Hluttaw respects the wishes of local residents, and does not unnecessarily impose itself on ethnic affairs. They need to continue to build relationships of goodwill between the various ethnic groups. When all of the locals reject the name [General Aung San Bridge] and the Pyithu Hluttaw continues to push it, they get the feeling that that they are being bullied within the democratic system,” said Dr. Aung Naing Oo, Deputy Speaker of the Mon State Hluttaw and Chaungzone Township representative.
The key to the federal system of government now being built in Burma, he said, is mutual respect, and recognition of local needs. The Union government must show its commitment to this system by acknowledging local demands in its policies.
Protesters insisted that they do not mean disrespect to General Aung San, whom they recognize as the founder of Independent Burma. They take issue, though, with the apparent disregard for local voices in naming the bridge. Burma should be building a real federal union, not an empire of General Aung San, they argue.
“Why is the bridge being named for the father of Myanmar, rather than the father of the Mon people. If they genuinely want to build a Burmese union of all the ethnic groups, they cannot bully the minority ethnic people. So I totally condemn and absolutely disagree with these actions,” said Sayadaw Warawongsa, the abbot at the Jeyawongsa Monastery in Bonut Village, Choungzone Township, Bilu Kyun.
“While the bridge was under construction it was referred to as the Thanlwin (Chaungzone) Bridge. It was only when the bridge neared completion that they tried to erase the Mon identity by naming the bridge for General Aung San,” said U Min Tin Nyunt, a protest organizer.
Protesters carried signs as they marched from Ka-nyor village to the Chaungzone side of the bridge. They also chanted slogans demanding recognition of local wishes and calling for ethnic solidarity. Protesters promised to continue marching if their demands were not met.
Construction on the bridge, which will be 1,759 feet long when completed, began in February, 2015 under the government of former President U Thein Sein. Opening celebrations are scheduled for April.