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On a summer evening in Dallas, a young Burmese woman adorned in traditional clothing crosses the stage in the Bush Institute’s Hall of State. President and Mrs. Bush congratulate her. Htoot May has done it; she’s graduated from the inaugural class of the Liberty and Leadership Forum. As the ceremony concludes, she celebrates the accomplishment with fellow classmates, taking photos with friends, and proudly sharing the achievement with her Facebook universe. Meanwhile, one of the greatest challenges of her life waits back in Burma – the country’s historic general elections on November 8, 2015.
Before coming to Dallas for the graduation ceremony, Htoot May had decided she would run for parliament, contesting a seat in Burma’s Upper House as a member of the Arkan National Party. That’s not an easy task for a young woman in a male-dominated society.
Fast forward to the present and Htoot May is on the campaign trail presenting herself as a new face eager to catalyze Burma’s transition to freedom and prosperity. She believes empowering and mobilizing Burma’s youth is the key to her country’s success. During a recent interview with the The Irrawdy she stated, “Without investing in education and creating job opportunities to raise the capacity of the youths, who are the future of the country, we can’t build a country…if more young people were sitting parliamentarians, Burma’s political transition would be faster than the current pace of reforms.”
While talking with the Democratic Voice of Burma, Htoot May expanded on what her priorities would be as a Member of Parliament saying, “I wish to bring about a change in our country for the sake of young people’s lives…My political ambition is to promote independent thinking among the youth and provide them freedom of education.”
Of course, Htoot May’s campaign isn’t confined to youthful idealism. She also campaigns for better infrastructure and job opportunities as one out of every four Burmese live in poverty and more than two-thirds of the population is without electricity.
If elected to parliament, it’s difficult to say what challenges she’ll face in Burma’s transitioning society. As the military reserves 25 percent of the seats in the legislature for itself, we know there’s still an uphill climb for democracy. Even so, there will be no change in Burma without the efforts of young leaders like Htoot May.
Christopher Walsh serves as a Manager for the Human Freedom Initiative at the George W. Bush Institute. In this role, Christopher manages communications, evaluation, and public policy research projects that advance freedom and democracy in the world. He also develops and implements efforts to make the Bush Institute a welcoming place for today’s generation of dissidents and democracy advocates, overseeing visits for training, inspiration, and insight.
Prior to joining the Bush Institute, Christopher worked with the International Republican Institute in Washington, D.C. As IRI’s program officer for Central and Eastern Europe, he coordinated political party building and civic advocacy programs in the Balkans and Turkey.
A native of Cape Cod, Massachusetts, Christopher is a graduate of American University with a B.A. in International Studies. He currently lives in Dallas with his wife and three young children.Full Bio
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