She’s no Gandhi, but she was democratically elected
By Ricky Browne
Aung San Suu Kyi, the de facto leader of Myanmar (also known as Burma), has lost a lot of fans globally, is likely not to get much sympathy on an international level now that she has been locked up by the military in what appears to be a coup d’etat.
In recent years the 75-year-old leader has been blamed internationally for Myanmar’s treatment of its Rohingya minority – which some claim borders on genocide.
While many will be concerned about the effect that this coup will have on democracy in Myanmar, its a safe bet that many internationally will shed few tears for the leader who so rapidly fell from grace.
But the same can not be said for her millions of supporters in Myanmar who just voted her back into power for a second term in November.
The military, which has been in control for most of Myanmar’s independence history, is back in control … and has locked up not only Suu Kyi, but most of her cabinet as well as President Win Myint. It has declared a one-year state of emergency.
The move followed Suu Kyi’s landslide win in November, where her party won 83 percent of the available seats. But the military, taking a page out of US President Donald Trump’s playbook, said the election was fraudulent with millions of voting irregularities.. Its own backed party did not do well, while Suu Kyi’s party won an even larger victory than in 2015.
And, like the attack on the US Capitol on January 6, this Myanmar coup came the day before parliament was to meet for the first time since the election, to approve the new government.
Aung San Suu Kyi is calling on Myanmar citizens to “protest against the coup”.
Aung San Suu Kyi was banned from being declared the leader of Myanmar when her party won the first democratic election in years, due to the constitution conveniently barring her for having been married to a foreigner and for having foreign children.
So instead, after her party won the 2015 democratic elections, she had herself named the State Counsellor, which in effect meant Prime Minister.
Aung San Suu Kyi was the daughter of a famous Burmese patriot, Aung San, who had helped to found the Burmese army and helped negotiate the country’s independence from the United Kingdom in 1947 when he was assassinated.
She had previously been locked up under house arrest on and off for 15 years over a 21 year period starting in 1989 and ending in 2010. During that period she was prevented from seeing her husband or sons, and remained largely under house at her home in the main city of Yangon (previously known as Rangoon).
When given the chance to leave Myanmaar, she refused, and her British husband died from cancer in his early 50s.
Her house arrest strengthened her politically and helped her to receive much international sympathy for appearing to be a political figure of the strength of someone like Nelson Mandela or Mahatma Gandhi.
In 1991, while under house arrest, Aung San Suu Kyi won the Nobel Peace Prize for her non-violent struggle for democracy and human rights.
In 2007 she was reported as saying “I do not hold to non-violence for moral reasons, but for political and practical reasons,” – which wasn’t really a ringing endorsement of Mahatma Gandhi’s philosophy, as it suggested that she could drop the philosophy whenever it was convenient – which years later she would do.
So the world stood aghast when once she finally came to power, she stood by and did nothing to help the Rohingya Muslim people – who had to flee for their lives to overcrowded refugee camps in one of the poorest countries in the world – Bangladesh.
Their refugee camp at a place called Cox’s Bazar in Bangladesh – known as one of the poorest areas in this poorest of countries — has become famous for its atrocious living conditions. The Kutupalong refugee camp there, with some 650,000 Rohingya refugees is believed to be the world’s largest refugee settlement.
It is believed that the Myanmar military has killed more than 24000 Rohingya people, as well as raped thousands and burned their villages down to the ground.
But, the Rohingya are only a small minority in Myanmar, with a population of about one million. The population of Myanmar is about 54 million people, who are largely Buddhist. The Myanmar government line is that the Rohingya are not citizens but are rather illegal immigrants from neighbouring Bangladesh.
The last straw for some was when Suu Kyi defended Myanmar’s actions at the International Court of Justice at the Hague in the Netherlands.
Since then, Suu Kyi has lost many of the humanitarian awards she had won in the past, and there have been increased calls for her Nobel Peace Prize to be rescinded.
In the elections earlier in January, Sun Kyi had a resounding victory, winning more than 80 percent of the contested seats.
But, perhaps believing that Sun Kyi has depleted her international support, the military felt that it could retake power without much international condemnation.
That is proving not to be completely the case as leading western countries have condemned the act.
On Monday morning, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson released a statement that was against the coup, but really showed little fondness for Suu Kyi.
“I condemn the coup and unlawful imprisonment of civilians, including Aung San Suu Kyi, in Myanmar. The vote of the people must be respected and civilian leaders released,” Johnson tweeted.
After three hours the tweet had got 10,600 likes and 2,000 comments. Those comments though had little to do with the coup in Myanmar, and were mianly used to juxtapose the comment against the lockdown of the British population – incarceration – and on promoting the idea of Scotland leaving the Union.
Japan also came out against the coup with a statement from chief cabinet secretary Katsunobu Kato.
“We are concerned about the state of emergency issued in Myanmar, which damages the democratic process, and call for the release of Aung San Suu Kyi and others who were detained,” Kato stated in a news conference on Monday.
“The Japanese government has long been a strong supporter of the democratic process in Myanmar, and opposes any situation that reverses it,” he said.
“Our nation strongly calls on the military to promptly restore democracy.”
Unsurprisingly, the United States and President Joe Bide have not taken kindly to t the efforts of the Myanmar militia to try and overturn the results of a democratic election – coming so soon after a similar incident in Washington DC. Biden warned that it was taking note of those countries that were standing with the people of Burma – and therefore presumably those that were not – and would be considering reapplying sanctions.
The White House released a statement from Biden on Monday which stated:
“The military’s seizure of power in Burma, the detention of Aung San Suu Kyi and other civilian officials, and the declaration of a national state of emergency are a direct assault on the country’s transition to democracy and the rule of law. In a democracy, force should never seek to overrule the will of the people or attempt to erase the outcome of a credible election.
For almost a decade, the people of Burma have been steadily working to establish elections, civilian governance, and the peaceful transfer of power. That progress should be respected.
“The international community should come together in one voice to press the Burmese military to immediately relinquish the power they have seized, release the activists and officials they have detained, lift all telecommunications restrictions, and refrain from violence against civilians. The United States is taking note of those who stand with the people of Burma in this difficult hour. We will work with our partners throughout the region and the world to support the restoration of democracy and the rule of law, as well as to hold accountable those responsible for overturning Burma’s democratic transition.
“The United States removed sanctions on Burma over the past decade based on progress toward democracy. The reversal of that progress will necessitate an immediate review of our sanction laws and authorities, followed by appropriate action.
“The United States will stand up for democracy wherever it is under attack.”