Akshan de Alwis is a junior at Noble and Greenough School
Naypyitaw is a city of contrasts. At its center is the parliament of Myanmar, a shining marble complex surrounded by a river-turned-moat. Behind it is a dreary compound of cramped quarters, home to all members of parliament who are not members of the ruling government party.
Here the roads are not even paved. Still, aides walk around proudly sporting t-shirts with the smiling face of Aung San Suu Kyi, leader of the National League for Democracy, which sent its first members to parliament earlier this year after decades fighting for democracy in Myanmar.
At a small cafe, I met Su Su Lwin, who heads the women's wing of the NLD, and her husband, a senior aide to Suu Kyi.
Su Su Lwin is the daughter of a former executive committee member of the NLD. Before the 1988 uprising led by students and monks, she taught linguistics at Yangon University. She quit to join the NLD.
Now, she is one of 13 female NLD members of parliament, representing the Thongwa Township in eastern Yangon. In by-elections earlier this year, the NLD won 44 seats.
But since arriving in Naypyitaw, they have been confined to humble quarters hundreds of feet from huge government mansions and office buildings.
Their movements are controlled, making communication with the rest of the country and their fellow members of parliament almost impossible.
There is no land-line telephone or television, and few have cell phones, which are prohibitively expensive. It took two months for the government to permit the NLD to open a headquarters in Naypyitaw.
When parliament meets, there is no set schedule, and members have no idea how long they will be sequestered in their quarters.
As Su Su Lwin begins to describe the ornate chandeliers in parliament, there is a blackout in the compound. She says in a firm voice that she doesn’t want to complain about the living conditions; as long as she can represent the Burmese people she is happy.
It’s a chance for change that her party wants to seize. Until January, most of the old party leaders were locked up.
The leaders of the 88 Generation Group -- the founding fathers and mothers of democracy in the country -- were released from prison. Among them was Ko Ko Gyi, the iconic leader of the revolution who led the student uprising and was jailed for most of his life.
I met with him and the charismatic Min Ko Naing, who lost his eyesight during his time in prison. Ko Ko Gyi said he was first released in 2005 then rearrested two year later and sent back to serve a 65-year sentence for sending e-mails under the Electronic Transactions Act.
The 88 Generation Group led by Ko Ko Gyi and Min Ko Naing now devotes itself to travelling around the country to build an open society in Myanmar.The group is careful not to describe itself as a political party, but a movement of the founding members of democracy.
Two days before we met, Ko Ko Gyi had been appointed by the government to a commission investigating the sectarian violence in June between Rakhine Buddhists and Muslim Rohingyas in which at least 83 people were killed.
The commission's report is due Sept. 17.
He produces the letter of appointment signed by President Thein Sein. Given the genesis and history of the movement, it is remarkable that Ko Ko Gyi has been named to the commission as a representative of the 88 Generation Group.
The press now is allowed to cover some of Ko Ko Gyi’s activities and the government recently lifted the censorship of the media overall.
That day, newspaper stands were covered with NLD newspapers with front-page pictures of Suu Kyi.
Still, Ko Ko Gyi warns against accepting the exaggerated claims by the government that a homegrown version of the Arab Spring has taken root here.
“The rule of law can only flourish in an open society. For that we have to work on education and awareness-raising among our people," he said.
I attended a NLD youth meeting where we discussed different models of democracy. I asked some of the older youth if they were excited about the recent lifting of media censorship. One responded that that she was prevented from attending computer classes conducted by the NLD.
"We are grateful much is changing,'' said another, "but freedom is what we deserve. We will be happy only when we have freedom and nothing less."
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