The 14 parties, which include the former ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) issued a joint statement saying that the decision to name the bridge for General Aung San does not promote national reconciliation.
The parties argued that the Hluttaw’s (parliament) vote on the name was not legitimate and violates the constitution’s injunction to preserve national solidarity. The statement was issued as the ruling National League for Democracy (NLD) was given an electoral rebuke in Saturday’s by-election for its support for the name.
“I had issued a statement to a similar effect in the past—that I share the attitude of my constituents regarding the name—but the USDP leadership was not included. Now though, the central party leadership has issued a strong statement recognizing local will,” said U Aung Kyi Thein, USDP representative for Chaungzon Township who won his seat amidst the bridge controversy.
The statement cited the Basic Principles of the Union laid out in the 2008 constitution, which states that one of the union’s objectives is the “Non-disintegration of National solidarity.” It went on to challenge the constitutionality of the Hluttaw’s naming decision, arguing that such a decision does not fall under the body’s jurisdiction.
The NLD-dominated Pyithu Hluttaw, the lower house of Myanmar’s parliament, voted on March 14 to change the bridge’s name from the Thanlwin (Chaungzon) Bridge to the General Aung San Bridge. The former name reflected the local geography while the latter represents the country’s independence leader. Many in Mon State argue that while they respect General Aung San, he is really a hero to the majority Burman ethnic group. The Mon State bridge should recognize Mon rather than Burman culture, which already dominates the country, they say.
On March 2 over 3,000 people protested the name on the Chaungzon side of the bridge. A much larger protest followed on March 9, when more than 20,000 Mon demonstrators were joined by Karen, Pa-O and other activists who were also frustrated by what they see as NLD’s insensitivity. The issue now threatens the multi-ethnic coalition that swept NLD into power in the 2015 general election.
The controversy has turned what should have been a celebration of development for the 200,000 residents of Chaungzon Township, into a confusing muddle. The March 30 opening ceremony was delayed twice, first to April 9 and now to an undefined date, though for a steep price cars can now cross the bridge. And Daw Aung Suu Kyi, the Nobel Laureate leader of the NLD, appears to have backed out of speaking at the opening amidst the controversy.
“I don’t know when the bridge will open. For that you should ask the Mon State Government or its department of construction,” said U Zaw Htay, the Deputy Director General of the Union President’s Office. Mon State Chief Minister Dr. Aye Zan could not be reached for comment.
The 14 signatories to the statement on the bridge are:
- Union Solidarity and Development Party
- National Unity Party
- New National Democracy Party
- National Development Party
- National Democratic Force
- Modern People’s Party
- Kayin State Democracy and Development Party
- Inn National Development Party
- Democratic Party (Myanmar)
- Myanmar National Congress
- Peace for Diversity Party
- People’s Democracy Party
- Wunthanu Democratic Party
- National Political Alliance League