Myanmar’s Mandela

The world celebrated the release of Nobel Laureate and Myanmar’s pro-democracy leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, yesterday. Ms Suu Kyi has spent 15 of the last 21 years in detention. She has played a central role in the democratic struggle waged by the people of Myanmar. Not only is she a woman of courage and principles but a symbol of resistance against oppression and an inspiration to the world. “It is not power that corrupts but fear. Fear of losing power corrupts those who wield it and fear of the scourge of power corrupts those who are subject to it,” contended Ms Suu Kyi in one of her most famous speeches. She could not have spoken truer words. Myanmar’s military junta has remained in power for decades and it is the junta’s increasing fear of losing control that has led it to throttle and manipulate the democratic process.

Myanmar is a multi-ethnic society but throughout its history since independence, the junta has oppressed the ethnic minorities. This has led to some of the longest running ethnic insurgencies in the world. As is inherent in military rule, minority ethnic group rights have been curbed through force. The military has not been able to suppress the insurgencies and the ethnic insurgents continue to wage their protracted struggle for just rights. The military junta has gotten away with much of its human rights abuses because of a division in the international community. Support from major power players like China, Russia, India, and even platforms like the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) has weakened the case for isolating Myanmar internationally. But ‘engaging’ Myanmar has not given any fruitful results either. The world needs to take a unified stance against the military junta to make it realise the error of its ways. As Aung San Suu Kyi told the cheering crowd after her release: “There is a time to be quiet and a time to talk. People must work in unison. Only then can we achieve our goal.” The world must present a unified stance against the junta’s oppression.

The junta might be seeking greater legitimacy globally by releasing Suu Kyi, who did not surrender despite years of detention, but the jury is still out whether she would be allowed to move around freely even now. The future of democracy in Myanmar revolves around this frail woman who has the courage of a lion. We salute her courage and hope for a return to democracy in Myanmar.

(my editorial in Daily Times)

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