Radio Website Header-Waves 6 3.0.jpg
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00
0:00
Available On Air Stations
WLJK-FM, 89.1, Aiken, will be intermittently off the air on Thursday, Sep 23, for maintenance. Streaming will not be affected.

Burmese Artists Drum Up Voter Support For Myanmar's Main Opposition Party

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Myanmar, also known as Burma, is preparing for its freest election in decades - at least that's what outside observers are hoping for next week. The country's military rulers began to open up Myanmar in 2010; now that country is engaging in democratic political campaign of a sort that was outlawed for years. Here's reporter Naomi Gingold.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED CROWD: (Singing in foreign language).

NAOMI GINGOLD, BYLINE: I just stepped off a campaign bus with a group of famous Burmese artists. They're on the trail for the main opposition party, the National League for Democracy - or the NLD - and their leader, Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi. As we snake through the streets, people descend paparazzi-like to take photos. Everyone is decked out in red NLD gear. There are thousands at this rally in the small township of Kawhmu. First up is this afternoon's main draw, Aung San Suu Kyi.

(SOUNDBITE OF SPEECH)

AUNG SAN SUU KYI: (Foreign language spoken).

(APPLAUSE)

GINGOLD: After her speech, she holds a Q and A.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: (Foreign language spoken).

GINGOLD: One woman asks, "if the NLD wins, will the military government peacefully transfer power?"

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

SUU KYI: (Foreign language spoken).

GINGOLD: Suu Kyi says in 1990, people were tricked. So it's natural to have these worries. But 1990 and 2015 aren't the same. Here's what happened in 1990. Suu Kyi's party won the election in a landslide, but the military refused to hand over power. Instead, she spent almost two decades in house arrest. After Suu Kyi's Q and A, the artists begin a concert, starting with a song they wrote for the campaign.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED CROWD: (Singing in foreign language).

GINGOLD: At one point...

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Yelling in foreign language).

GINGOLD: "Are you ready," they scream. "For real change, vote NLD." This chant, one of the pop stars tells me, is the best part of campaigning. This group of artists has been on the campaign trail for almost a month non-stop. One of the artist organizers is Anegga. That's his whole name. He's also one of the founding fathers of Burmese hip-hop. On the bus, Anegga tells me that a large part of why they're there is actually voter education. They start by encouraging people who've long lived in fear.

ANEGGA: You have to vote. You have the power, so don't afraid.

GINGOLD: They explain how to vote, where to vote, how to check names on the voter list. I ask Anegga if five years ago, he would have even said out loud that he supports the NLD.

ANEGGA: You can't. I can't. If you're a supporter of NLD, you have to be in jail.

GINGOLD: Back then, a campaign event like this would have been completely unthinkable. Then, in late 2011, Suu Kyi was released from house arrest, and reforms began to pick up - although haltingly. There have been problems in the lead-up to the election. Voter lists are a bit of a mess - people left off, phantom people on, incorrect information. Even Anegga's info is wrong. And he's not sure whether he'll be able to vote. And Suu Kyi, despite her popularity, has been criticized for heavy-handed party decisions and for not choosing any Muslim candidates, supposedly to appease Buddhist extremists, who have been on the rise. But she's still the leader most Burmese look to, and everyone thinks the NLD will win big. On a technicality, Suu Kyi is barred from becoming president. And a quarter of Parliament is still reserved for the military. That night after the rally, the artists' bus is met at the hotel - as it is in all its stops - with undercover military police. In the noisy lobby the next morning, the rock singer known simply as She tells me a lot of artists were too scared to join the campaign. She's actually received threatening phone calls telling her to stop. But she says what most here say.

SHE: I'm not scared (laughter).

GINGOLD: They plan to keep campaigning until the end. But they all know this Sunday's election is just the first step.

(SOUNDBITE OF UNIDENTIFIED SONG)

UNIDENTIFIED ARTIST: (Singing in foreign language).

GINGOLD: For NPR News, I'm Naomi Gingold in Yangon.

(SOUNDBITE OF UNIDENTIFIED SONG)

UNIDENTIFIED ARTIST: (Singing in foreign language). Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.