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Election debate: What’s at stake for Burma’s youth?

Burmese youth have a powerful legacy of political leadership. From General Aung San and his anti-colonial agitators to the student-led protests of 1988 that changed Burma forever, young people have long led from the front. Now, a new politically charged generation has the chance to vote for the first time.

Burma goes to the polls on Sunday for an election that is set to cap of four years of top-down political and economic change in the country.

The vote is a chance to solidify progress made, and set course for the future. No group has more at stake than Burma’s youth, young people who could be set to inherit a newly democratic nation.

On this week’s episode of DVB Debate are four young politicians in the running for parliament.

In the studio is Nay Phone Latt from the National League for Democracy, the Kachin Democratic Party’s (KDP) Lum Zau, May Thu Aung from the National Unity Party and Thu Yein Shwe from the National Development Party.

The panel discusses the core issues for Burma’s youth as election day quickly approaches. Drug addiction and youth unemployment were immediately flagged by the aspiring politicians as the biggest challenges facing their contemporaries.

The National League for Democracy’s Nay Phone Latt is a former online activist, who spent four years in jail for his political blog. He believes that young innovators are struggling to find work in Burma and says a lack of education and opportunities are causing a ‘Brain Drain’.

“The biggest problem at the moment is a ‘Brain Drain’. The government does not value young minds. So people can’t live in this country. We are losing our brightest minds in a ‘Brain Drain’,” the NLD candidate said.

In Kachin State, rampant drug addiction lurks in the background of a vicious war fuelled in part by local and transnational crime. KDP candidate Lum Zau says peace is the answer to ridding his home from the scourge of drugs. If elected to Kachin regional parliament, he says he will take with him a message of peace.

“The drug problem is not caused by young people. It was introduced by older people. The youth are the victims, the ones that are suffering,” he said. “This issue is closely related to the nationwide ceasefire and the issue of peace in the country. The situation in [Kachin capital] Myitkyina is very bad. If you don’t believe me, you can go and see the toilets at Myitkyina University, where boxes are kept for used syringes. We have aims to handle this problem, to try to solve it. We have to be confident to address it as it threatens us all. But I will fight to bring justice for all in ethnic areas across the country. I will participate as much as possible in the peace process.”

At first glance, its the old stagers that dominate on Burma’s political stage. Executive members of the ruling and opposition parties are dominated by politicians in their seventies and eighties.

So, how will the next generation can pick up the mantle from Burma’s ageing political class?

National Unity Party candidate May Thu Aung says Burma’s youth must continue to place faith in the political system as it stands.

“What is most important is that young people vote with the right spirit. This is not the time for revolution. Since 2011-2012 we’ve gotten some freedom, as everybody knows. Now, is the time to build our nation. We should leave the past behind. I would like to encourage young people to vote in the spirit of nation building and to vote without attaching personal stigma to candidates. Instead, choose the people who will be good for your quarter, your town, your state and your country.”

But Nay Phone Latt says Burma’s youth must stand up when it counts.

“We cannot separate evolution from revolution,” he said. Even though we are evolving, we need to keep forcing small revolutions. If we have a good government that we can trust in, then we can go along with evolution. If we have a good government that we can trust in, then we can go along with evolution. If we don’t have that sort of government, then we need revolution in some form.