That small stand by Mr Bercow demonstrates what Mrs Suu Kyi meant to the West and many in her own country for years. The Oxford University educated 72-year-old first rose to prominence in 1988 while uprising against the Socialist government who had turned Burma into a Soviet-style society. Despite her party winning the majority of votes in the subsequent election in 1990, she was placed under house arrest by a military junta following which she won the Nobel Peace Prize. She remained under house arrest until 2010, continually speaking out against the Burmese military dictatorship and gained further international acclaim in doing so. After enough international pressure and internal discontent, she was released and elections were held. Her party swept to a landslide and while she couldn’t become President owing a to a constitutional technicality, it was made clear she would be calling the shots.
The world rejoiced. For once, there was a beacon of hope in a region that lacked it. The people saw this as a new day for Myanmar. Yet, two years on, muffled reports from the area suggest to us nothing has changed and international pressure is mounting once again for the regime to act.
The main source of concern for international observes is the fate of the Rohingya, a Muslim minority that lives within the region of Rakhine. Ethnic tensions between the dominant Buddhists and the Rohingya within the Rakhine state has led to an estimated death total in the hundreds with a further 66,000 fleeing to Bangladesh and 22,000 being displaced according to the U.N. The Rohingya Muslims are seen within Myanmar as illegal immigrants and are denied citizenship even though they have been settled for generations. There has always been tensions between the Rohingya Muslims and the Buddhists but they flared up following large scale clashes in 2012 which led to a state of emergency being declared within Rakhine. This allowed the highly pro-Buddhist and nationalist military to get directly involved in the administrative efforts of the state which has exasperated the situation.
While the oppression of this minority existed prior to Mrs Suu Kyi’s accession to power, what has shocked everyone is that her government have denied that it is happening. Not only this, but Mrs Suu Kyi and her government have denied access to UN investigators, something which only North Korea, Venezuela, Congo and Syria have done previously.
Some of her advocates have argued that the military, who are constitutionally entitled to 25% of the seats in parliament, still hold large sway and are stopping any action in Rakhine. However, considering Aung Suu Kyi was comfortable speaking out under house arrest, it seems implausible that she fears the military now she is the most powerful person in Myanmar. It seems especially poignant that on many occasions she has spoken about ensuring safety and security for people but fails to guarantee it for a minority living within her borders.
While ethnic tensions continue in her country, the government also seems to be happy for journalists to be persecuted. The chief editor of The Voice Daily, U Kyaw Min Swe, is currently awaiting trial for defaming the national army after having written a satirical review of a propaganda film. This is not a one of occurrence as only last month (June 2017) three journalists where stopped and arrested under a draconian Law from 1905. While it is harder to judge court cases until they come to their conclusion, it is undoubtedly worrying to see anyone being arrested for writing or arbitrary laws. This seems even more shocking when we consider that Mrs Suu Kyi herself was imprisoned for speaking out against what she thought to be a tyrannical regime.
What ourselves, Mr Bercow and the Nobel Peace Prize Committee may have forgotten in our haste in appointing Mrs Suu Kyi as the saviour of the far East, is that she is a politician. Her job is not to live up to the expectations of those outside her country but to listen to her own people. After all, that is the nature of democracy. However, this does not excuse her from the situation. Politicians often put their reputation at risk to create real change. The most obvious current example of President Juan Manuel Santos who has essentially guaranteed defeat in his upcoming election having forced through a controversial peace deal with the FARC. What this means to the West, Mr Bercow and many others is that Mrs Suu Kyi is no saviour of the far East but rather a normal unprincipled politician and in our eyes: a failure.