The nominally civilian Burmese government is demanding that democracy icon and opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi stop referring to the Southeast Asian nation as “Burma” – the colonial name still used by dissidents and many foreign governments.
In a terse statement Friday published by state-controlled media, the Union Election Commission called on the Nobel laureate's National League for Democracy party to call the country the “Republic of the Union of Myanmar.” That name was adopted more than two decades ago by the military junta that ruled the country until last year. The name “Myanmar” was also enshrined in the country's 2008 constitution, which was written under junta supervision.
Aung San Suu Kyi and the NLD party have vigorously opposed the name change, with officials arguing that the country has for centuries been referred to as Burma in English. NLD legal adviser Nyan Win tells VOA that English-language references to “Burma” are not against the law.
Nyan Win notes the Burmese-language version of the constitution does call the country Myanmar, but the English version does not.
The NLD adviser says the existing English-language constitution is not an “authentic translation.” As he put it, “We don't even know who translated it into English.”
Another senior NLD official, Win Tin, was more blunt.
He said the official warning shows that Burma's government “is just trying to restrict … and harass” the National League for Democracy.
Aung San Suu Kyi has not commented on the warning. She was scheduled to return home late Friday from a two-week tour of Europe, where she frequently referred to her homeland as Burma while speaking in English.
Global leaders remain split on the name controversy, which is gaining strength as Burma begins implementing democratic reforms while emerging from decades of diplomatic and economic isolation.
U.S. officials, siding with Aung San Suu Kyi, argue that the name Myanmar was decreed by military rulers and has never been approved either by popular referendum or a democratically elected government. Former colonial power Britain also refers to the country as Burma.