Aung San Suu Kyi: The Failure

Mrs Suu Kyi is no saviour of the far East but rather a normal unprincipled politician [Image: Flickr]

In late 2015, the Chinese President, Xi Jinping, was invited on a state visit to the UK in an attempt by the UK government to build closer relations with the emerging super power. The anti-democratic, human rights violating, leader was set to address the UK Parliament in what can only be considered a humiliation for the Parliament that has fought to defend democracy and human rights over the decades. As is tradition, the Speaker of the House of Commons, John Bercow, began introducing the President. Yet Mr Bercow decided to make a point by mentioning one Aung San Suu Kyi, describing her as “the noble peace prize winner, democracy champion and international symbol of the innate human right of freedom.” Mr Xi did not look pleased as heard that remark.

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.

2 comments

  1. 4 Aug ’17 at 6:47 pm

    Derek Tonkin

    John Bercow, like most Western politicians, is totally infatuated with Ms Suu Kyi. He revelled in the massively counterproductive sanctions which she advocated, even though these sanctions did not touch the Generals, but only ordinary Burmese by denying them development aid and damaging labour-intensive industries like tourism and garment manufacture. The effectiveness of our sanctions was never debated in Parliament.

    Ms Suu Kyi has herself publicly acknowledged that she is not, and never has been, a human rights advocate, only always a politician in what we can now see reflects the typical Asian dynastic model: authoritarian, intolerant of those pesky student organizations and civil society groups who used to be her ardent supporters, and increasingly reluctant to meet the international press.

    The writer is not quite accurate historically. Ms Suu Kyi was placed under house arrest on 20 July 1989 and played no part in the 27 May 1990 elections. She had three spells under house arrest until her release on 14 November 2010, and one short period of imprisonment, but was released between times. Throughout her detention the Generals made it clear that she could leave Myanmar whenever she wanted to. She chose to stay. For this sacrifice of her liberty she merits much respect. But it was her choice.

    On the Rohingya, their victimisation by the State authorities and the discrimination which they have suffered is not in doubt. Ms Suu Kyi, sadly, has done nothing to alleviate their misfortunes: indeed, she keeps well away from Rakhine State. Even so, there remains a strong residue of political support for her among the British establishment. Though she may indeed be a failure in the sense that the writer eloquently demonstrates, for better or worse Britain is wedded to her as still the best bet for promoting British interests in Myanmar. Realpolitik in action.

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  2. Rohingya who are labelled as long time suffered Muslim resident even century in Arakan state of Burma. Actually there are group of long time Arakanese Muslims are called KAMEIN who are in the original list of 135 national group. The initial group of Muslim were brought into Arakan state by Britisn East India compant to farm but the British neglected to include Brngali Muslim in the Burma Indepedence agreement between Burma Prime Minister U Nu and British Prime Minister Clement Attlee. Hence if human right campaigners wishes to blame, it’s the Colonial British Government short coming fault. Therefore Arkanese Muslim are illegal interloper from Bengali who never received legal resident status.

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