Monthly Coupon

Wednesday, February 10, 2021

Checkmate for Suu Kyi

Her failure to own up to the crackdown on the Rohingya has sullied her reputation


A military coup in Myanmar was imminent for two reasons, which immediately invited widespread protests within the country and international condemnation.

First, the Tatmadaw (Myanmar army) since they took the reign of the country in 1962 failed an “election engineering” plan in favour of a pro-military political party. Secondly, Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi gained popularity which brought her confidence in further reforms to democratize the nation, which the military generals were watching with frowns.

Suu Kyi, who spent 15 years under house arrest in the struggle to bring democracy to Myanmar, has been detained along with other leaders of her political party in a military coup.

Meanwhile, the anti-military coup protests swell in Myanmar, and riot police battle demonstrators in Myanmar’s capital Naypyidaw and cities and towns across the country.

The supporters of Suu Kyi, leader of the pro-democracy National League for Democracy (NLD), call for a campaign of civil disobedience -- amidst a blockage of Facebook, fearing further anti-military street protests.

The Buddhist monks, doctors, nurses, teachers, have openly joined protests against the Myanmar coup, which has surprisingly grown louder every hour, since the military coup on February 1.

Myanmar has been a country of military coups and military rule -- shortly since independence from British colonialists in 1948.

In an uneasy power-sharing agreement in 2008, the military made a political partnership in running the country. The army had 25% of the seats in parliament.

Well, the 2015 elections established the road to democracy and installed the first civilian government after 50 years of global isolation and a ruthless military regime.

The February coup derails years of Western-backed efforts to establish democracy in Myanmar, where neighbouring China also has a powerful influence.

China was conspicuously silent in condemning the military coup, which occurred hours before parliament was due for the maiden session since the NLD’s landslide win in a November 8 election.

China was sceptical in strengthening bilateral relations with Myanmar, keeping Suu Kyi in power.

Suu Kyi’s party, the NLD won 396 seats out of 476 in the upper and lower houses of parliament, which has been interpreted by political observers as a referendum on Suu Kyi’s fledgling democratic rule.

Well, the main opposition party, the military-aligned Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), bagged only 33 seats (nearly 7%) in the last elections, eight fewer seats than in 2015.

In response to military chief General Min Aung Hlaing’s claim that the November poll was an “election fraud,” however, Myanmar’s Union Election Commission rejected the claims of voter fraud.

The defenders of democracy fear that Myanmar’s army is likely to scrap the constitution, despite the army chief Gen Hlaing saying the 2008 constitution was “the mother law for all laws” and should be respected.

Its guarantee of military power makes the constitution a “deeply unpopular” document, according to Yangon-based political analyst Khin Zaw Win.

On top of the military junta’s strings of accusations against the pro-democracy leader, Suu Kyi is already accused of ethnic cleansing and genocide of the ethnic Rohingya Muslim population, which the United Nations said had “the hallmarks of genocide.”

She took the responsibilities for the infamous military crackdown on the Rohingya and denied genocide at the International Court of Justice in The Hague, and explained the claims as “incomplete and misleading.”

Soon after shouldering responsibilities of the Myanmar military, Suu Kyi fell from the grace of world leaders and as an icon of democracy, primarily because she mishandled the crisis when more than a million ethnic Rohingya fled the restive Rakhine state into neighbouring Bangladesh in 2016 and 2017, which the United Nations dubbed as a “textbook ethnic cleansing.”

While still hugely popular at home -- the daughter of the independence hero Aung San (who was assassinated in 1947) -- her international reputation has been damaged after she failed to stop the forced expulsion of hundreds of thousands of Rohingya from the western Rakhine State in 2017.

To judge whether she has failed the world, the democratization of the country, or is a saviour of the nation from the yoke of the military, is a matter of time.

First Published in the Dhaka Tribune, 10 February 2021

Saleem Samad is an independent journalist, media rights defender, recipient of Ashoka Fellowship and Hellman-Hammett Award. He can be reached at Twitter @saleemsamad

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