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Burma’s netizens went wild on Tuesday after Vice-President Nyan Tun was quoted in local media remarking that 2,000 kyat (US$2) per day was a liveable wage. The president’s spokesperson, Ye Htut, quickly tried to fix the situation, suggesting that Nyan Tun’s words were “misinterpreted”.
“This is just people, as usual,” Ye Htut told DVB by phone on Thursday, “misinterpreting the true meaning. The vice-president was actually referring to the poverty-line.”
Nyan Tun, addressing a group of rickshaw drivers in Rangoon’s Thuwanna Stadium on Monday, reportedly said that “Earning more than 2,000 kyat per day should be enough to survive, and a little bit more than that would be convenient.”
The spokesperson explained that he didn’t mean to imply that 2,000 kyat was enough income, but rather that it would put a worker above the international poverty line, which is $1.25 per day. This number, an estimate determined by the World Bank, reflects extreme poverty. Those who earn more than $2 per day are considered moderately impoverished.
Accurate and up-to-date statistics are not available, but an estimated 32 percent of Burma’s estimated 60 million people live in poverty.
The vice-president’s comment, delivered during a meeting with attendees of a seminar promoting socio-economic development in rural areas, was published in a weekly Rangoon journal called People’s Image. It instantly went viral on social media and became a popular target for comics and memes.
Ye Htut’s personal Facebook page was shortly bombarded by angry insults.
The spokesperson, who is also the deputy-minister of information, has not had an easy week. He came under criticism on Tuesday for making inflammatory remarks about Burma’s opposition leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, during an interview with the BBC.
Suu Kyi, who has been rallying the nation to support constitutional change, has publicly stated a belief that Burmese President Thein Sein does not support amendment.
Without clarifying the president’s position on this issue, Ye Htut told the BBC: “I’m afraid to say her remarks are just like angry words from a sulking child.”