Breaking the bad news?

Disclaimer: Dear students, this is an opinion piece and you’re free to disagree. Note the various techniques of voicing opinions used in this post – by Aung San Suu Kyi herself (she concedes partial truth), by the various international press reports on her comments about Singapore, and by yours truly.

 Myanmar's Suu Kyi

DID we just get slapped in the face by a Nobel Peace Prize Laureate?

So just before leaving Singapore after her first-ever visit, Aung San Suu Kyi bids us farewell at a press conference on September 23rd (Monday night) by saying that Singapore could learn, from Myanmar, to have a “more relaxed way of life and warmer and closer family relations”.

This is quite a bold statement to make in front of international press. The Economist has interpreted Miss Suu Kyi’s statement to imply that there is more to life than GDP growth. According to The Economist,

For [Aung San Suu Kyi], Singapore’s material success was not enough. For her country, she wants ‘something more’.

I think we can accurately paraphrase this to mean that Singapore is hardly an ideal role model because our materialistic culture has robbed us of this ‘something more’ – a better quality of life. Aung San Suu Kyi happens to think that this better quality of life means closer relationships and a less fast-paced lifestyle.

Well, for balance, she concedes that Myanmar could learn quite a lot from us. She did say that her five-day trip here gave her valuable lessons on education policies and anti-corruption measures, which Myanmar could certainly learn from. But her reservations about Singapore not being a role model might have (a) disappointed our leaders; (b) provided me with fertile discussion in tomorrow’s GP lesson on Media and Censorship.

Also, somewhere in those international news reports lurk a potential AQ:

“Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi asserts that societies should aspire to more than economic growth. She believes that countries like Singapore have placed too much emphasis on material success, at the expense of better qualities of life for its people.

To what extent is Miss Suu Kyi’s claim applicable in your society? Discuss, with use of specific, relevant examples from your society.”

Besides raising questions about quality of life vs GDP growth, various international reports on Miss Suu Kyi’s insightful “farewell comments” also provide fertile ground for discussion of news reporting/ journalism.

Her comments during the press conference drew much media attention, and journalistic agencies around the world have reported this in a variety of ways. Our local Straits Times decided the headline, “Myanmar can ‘learn from, not copy Singapore’”[1]; Reuters chose the headline, “Myanmar’s Suu Kyi looks to Singapore as model – minus the materialism”[2]; The Economist chose to headline their article, “Wanting More”[3].

This is the transcript of what she actually said in the press conference:

“I want to learn a lot from the standards that Singapore has been able to achieve. But I wonder if we don’t want something more for our country.

What is the purpose of the workforce? What is the purpose of material wealth? Is that the ultimate aim of human beings? [… ] I want to find out what we can achieve beyond that.

On all accounts, this is not the most complimentary of farewell speeches. But I think we ought to take her words with some dose of healthy scepticism. Granted, Miss Suu Kyi is a Nobel Peace Prize Laureate. However, she remains an opposition party member and is still constitutionally ineligible to run for 2015 Presidency in Myanmar – this does beg the question of how much credence we should attach to her words. Achieving GDP growth, but at the same time ensuring that materialism does not creep into society – Is that an overly idealistic and utopian aim?

While the cynic in me squeaks (just a small squeak) that Miss Suu Kyi may be making such idealistic remarks to seek populist votes and make the headlines, I am quite inclined to believe that she has her heart in the right place and has the welfare of the Burmese people as top priority. In an opinion piece, a journalist in The Economist writes that:

Miss Suu Kyi, however, has one unassailable strong point. She may be… misguided, even high-handed. But nobody questions her fundamental integrity, nor her desire to do the best for Myanmar’s people[4].

Miss Suu Kyi seems a good poster-girl for the UN Declaration of Human Rights to Anything (this is not an actual term). The press have painted her in this light and as long as she does not make a wrong move, we might be witnesses to an upcoming change in the constitution of Myanmar. We might be witnesses to the headline, “Aung San Suu Kyi Wins 2015 Election in Myanmar”. All bets are on.


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