Myanmar’s Political Cartoonists Emboldened by Pro-Democracy Election Victory

AFP File Photo
AFP File Photo

Victory for pro-democracy activists in Myanmar’s latest election has emboldened the nation’s political cartoonists, who face extreme censorship under military rule.

Maung Maung Aung picked up his pencil and depicted “a pampered politician in a sketch, an image that just a few years ago would have been unthinkable.” Next to the man is a “destitute family” that berates the politician.

“We are very happy for you that you have not been beaten and abused. We only hope that you won’t cause trouble for others,” the father said to the politician.

Maung Maung Aung and other cartoonists can finally embrace the freedom enjoyed by American political cartoonists.

“Cartoons need freedom. The more freedom there is, the more a cartoon is able to say and be creative so they can carry more meaning,” he exclaimed.

His job has left him in “poverty” while he lived in “fear,” since the slightest mistake would mean jail and punishment. Censorship controlled the lives of the cartoonist under military rule.

But even though Aung Sang Suu Kyi and her pro-democracy party won elections in November, Maung Maung Aung encourages his colleagues not to shy away from criticizing her.

“Cartoonists should not be biased,” he said, adding that “they should point out the faults of any government.”

Change might be slow. A senior official in her National League for Democracy (NLD) said she “will not press for an immediate change to the Constitution that bars her from becoming president, and will instead appoint a ceremonial head of state.” But she was quick to add that it does not mean she or the party “has given up” its goal to amend the Constitution. Suu Kyi does not want “open confrontation with the powerful military.”

The NLD won a landslide election victory with 80% contested seats. This means the party “has more than the two-thirds it needs to choose the president.” The election puts an end to military rule, but they will still hold a quarter of the seats.

Under the Constitution, Suu Kyi cannot be president since she is a widow and mother to foreigners.

Peace talks between the military, NLD, and armed ethnic groups began this week. The BBC reported the “more active ethnic rebel armies have refused to show up or [have] been blocked by the Burmese army.” The eight at the conferences traveled from the peaceful south.

The government signed a ceasefire with these eight armed rebel groups in October. The active ones, however, did not sign the document.

President Thein Sein celebrated the ceasefire, stating, “We have been able to launch a new road to a peaceful future of our country.”