Myanmar coup: Don’t shed tears for Aung San Suu Kyi

From democrat to autocrat: Suu Kyi’s many avatars

Politics

February 1, 2021

/ By Ranvir Nayar / New Delhi

Myanmar coup: Don’t shed tears for Aung San Suu Kyi

State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi was detained under house arrest, as Myanmar military takes control (Photo: AFP)

News of yet another military coup in Myanmar and detention of country’s leader Aung San Suu Kyi has brought forth usual noises of concern from various nations, including India and the United States. But on ground nothing much is expected to change as over the past five years, Suu Kyi had behaved pretty much like a military general, bearing no dissent and overseeing biggest refugee crisis in recent years in the form of Rohingyas.

Finally, political situation in Myanmar has turned a full circle. Like many other south-east Asian nations,  Myanmar has never  been a true democracy. Ever since the assassination of Aung San, Father of the Nation, who led the country to freedom from the British rule, the country, that was separated from India in 1937 by the British colonial powers, has lurched from one coup to another, over the past 75 years.

Things had begun to look different for Myanmar in 2015 when Aung San’s famous daughter who had been fighting for democracy in the country and incarcerated in house arrest for almost 15 years, won the elections in a landslide victory as her National League for Democracy party bagged 255 of 440 seats in the lower house of the Parliament. Even though the military junta leaders had put in place adequate safeguards to ensure that the country’s first freely elected government did not get totally out of hand, the performance of NLD was a surprise for all, especially the military and Suu Kyi herself.

Her victory and the scale of it had propped up hopes of creation of a new Myanmar that was free in the true sense of the word. A wide variety of interest groups had their own expectations from Suu Kyi. Broadly most expectations were release of thousands of political prisoners still in jail, removal of censorship to allow for free press and a total overhaul of the country’s judicial and prison systems, with clear focus on human rights and greater freedoms for Myanmar’s citizens who had till then always been under a military yoke.

However, within a few months all hopes of a change or at least significant change were dashed as Suu Kyi turned out to be at least as autocratic as any leader of a military junta. On a large number of issues, she disappointed and even angered local as well as international organisations that had been backing her during her struggle for restoration of democracy. Until she took political power, only her closest aides had known of her temperament as an absolute autocrat.

Within weeks of her installation as state chancellor, Suu Kyi displayed her true colours. She has overseen incarceration of thousands of critics of her government and jailed every journalist who dared to criticise her or raise uncomfortable issues such as human rights abuse or the Rohingya refugee crisis. But the biggest letdown from Suu Kyi came from her treatment of Rohingyas, a Muslim community living in Rakhine state who have been discriminated against for decades and most notably since 1982 when Citizenship Law denied citizenship to them, making them stateless within the Myanmarese state, one of the largest populations of stateless persons in the world. Currently close to a million Rohingyas live in refugee colonies in Bangladesh where they have been since August 2017 to escape a fresh wave of repression and genocide. According to Human Rights Watch, about 600,000 Rohingyas who still live in Rakhine face government persecution and violence and are confined to camps and villages. They don’t have freedom to move and remain cut off from access to adequate food, healthcare, education and livelihood.

Overseeing Rohingya crisis

Rohingyas have been one of the most fervent supporters of Suu Kyi right since her struggle for democracy began three decades ago, demonstrating along with her. However, now they feel let down as Suu Kyi has maintained a complete silence on their plight and even went to the extent of saying that she agreed with military perception that its actions in Rakhine, bordering on genocide, were an appropriate response to Rohingya militia uprising. She went on to describe generals accused of genocide as “quite sweet”.

The failure of Suu Kyi to respond to the humanitarian crisis facing Rohingyas and her continued silence on their condition has attracted sharp criticism from her former supporters and fans in the international community. In 2018, Amnesty International stripped her of a human rights award, because of its “profound disappointment” in her. Just days later, the 700,000 Rohingya refugees who fled Myanmar after a brutal military-led campaign of ethnic cleansing in August last year collectively refused to take part in a repatriation plan, due to Myanmar’s failure to ensure they had freedom, rights and safety.

Thus, it was no surprise that Suu Kyi’s win in the elections held last year did not create any ripples outside the country, even though it was an impressive victory and the military-backed parties cited irregularities in order to weaken Suu Kyi’s position. Even the President of the country remarked on the voters’ lists used in the elections as being full of fake voters.

Clearly, the military still fears Suu Kyi, though she has done hardly anything to go against them and they retain far too many institutions and levers of power to be threatened by the civil government. The reason why the military junta decided to eject her from power on the day that her second term was to begin is the threat that perhaps in her second term Suu Kyi would finally begin to act on issues like restoration of true democracy and human rights.

Now that she has been deposed, Suu Kyi is unlikely to go down without a fight, even though for over five years it looked that she had no fight left in her. Now, in yet another house arrest perhaps Suu Kyi would rediscover the moral courage and determination that had led her to mount her campaign. That may be the only way can Aung San’s daughter can hope to reclaim and rebuild the shattered trust around her and make people believe in her again.

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