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Myanmar Coup; The Rise And Fall Of Aung San Suu Kyi

Suu Kyi’s time in politics has been full of twists and turns. One thing that is crystal clear that her political journey has been overshadowed by the actions of military leadership. Suu Kyi rather served as a face-saving for real monsters in the troubled-politics of Myanmar.

Aung San Suu Kyi is the daughter of Myanmar’s assassinated founding father Aung San. She returned to her home country in the late 1980s after studying in England. She rose to political fame in the 1988 uprisings against the country’s military dictatorship.

Her National League for Democracy (NLD) was victorious in the 1990 elections, but the government refused to honor the vote. Suu Kyi’s political rise gave hope for democracy in Myanmar.

Birth and personal life

Suu Kyi was born shortly before the end of World War II on June 19, 1945. She is the daughter of Aung San, a hero of Burmese independence. She was married to Michael Aris, a British national, and had two sons before her entry into politics.

When her British husband, Michael Aris, was dying of cancer in 1999, the Myanmar military refused to let him enter Myanmar. Authorities allowed Suu Kyi to travel to London instead. Suu Kyi declined that offer. She believed that she would never be allowed to be in Myanmar to continue her struggle for democracy.

Myanmar – Independence and years under military rule

Myanmar, also known as Burma, is in South East Asia and neighbors Thailand, Laos, Bangladesh, China, and India. The country has a population of about 54 million, mostly Burmese speakers. Although other languages are also spoken. The biggest city is Yangon (Rangoon) but the capital is Nay Pyi Taw.

The main religion is Buddhism. There are many ethnic groups in the country, including Rohingya Muslims. The country gained independence from Britain in 1948. It was ruled by the armed forces from 1962 until 2011 when a new government began ushering in a return to civilian rule.

The assassination of Aung San

Aung San is widely considered the founding father of Myanmar and its military, known as the Tatmadaw. He was assassinated in 1947 before his country, then called Burma, gained independence from the British Empire in 1948.

Suu Kyi’s political journey

Suu Kyi had always maintained that it was her duty to serve her country and its people. She started her political career when she already had raised two sons and was working as an academic abroad.

At that time, a student-led protest movement was challenging the country’s socialist one-party regime. However, the movement lacked a personality that could unite all of the country’s opposition forces against the government. Upon her return to her home country, the students turned to Suu Kyi — and she took the lead without hesitation.

Suu Kyi as the country’s most popular political figure

In August 1988, she launched her political rise with a speech in front of an estimated 500,000 people at the Shwedagon Pagoda, an iconic golden Buddhist temple in Yangon. Suu Kyi built on her father’s legacy and called for a ‘second struggle for national independence’ during that speech.

The speech turned Suu Kyi into the country’s most popular political figure. However, the spirit of optimism wouldn’t last long.

The Military took over the government and change of country’s name to Myanmar

About a month after Suu Kyi’s speech, Myanmar’s military put down the popular uprising and took over the government. The military also promised a new election and a multiparty system. Thousands of people got killed. In 1989, the military government changed the English translation of the country’s name to Myanmar.

Suu Kyi’s years in house arrest

Shortly after the military coup, Suu Kyi founded the pro-democracy political party, the National League for Democracy (NLD). An election promised by the military went ahead in 1990, and NLD candidates surprisingly won more than four-fifths of all parliamentary seats.

The election results, however, were never put into place. Instead, Suu Kyi was placed under house arrest. Between July 1989 and November 2010, she was mostly isolated to her home in the main city of Yangon.

Suu Kyi becoming a Nobel laureate and champion of human rights

Suu Kyi was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1990, and her two sons accepted on her behalf. She donated $1.3 million in prize money to health and education programs in Myanmar.

The award also drew international attention to Myanmar and Suu Kyi was considered a symbol of human rights and democracy. During her house arrest, Suu Kyi devoted herself to Mahatma Gandhi’s philosophy of non-violence, while preaching “freedom from fear.”

Suu Kyi’s reentry into the politics after years in the house arrest

Following elections in 2010, the former General Thein Sein became president of Myanmar and announced a comprehensive reform program and the opening of the country. Suu Kyi was released from house arrest and faced a decision to either refuse to participate in politics or make her return according to strict rules set by the military.

She decided to take part in the political process, a move that went against the principles of those opposed to the military. The NLD won a sweeping victory in Myanmar’s 2015 general election.

Suu Kyi was constitutionally prohibited from being president because her husband was from the UK. She assumed the title of state counselor. The role of state counselor was created especially for her that roughly corresponds to that of prime minister.

 Ethnic cleansing of Rohingya

Myanmar continues to be beset by deep ethnic tensions and a hobbled peace process to end ongoing civil conflict. This process took a huge blow in October 2016 and August 2017 in Myanmar’s western Rakhine state, where an Islamic militant group, the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA), attacked Tatmadaw forces stationed in the region.

Rohingya – the Muslim majority population that has lived with a history of discrimination, persecution, and denial of their due rights still faces the risk of further persecution and genocide. The clouds of uncertainty and fear still linger on the Rohingya and these warning signs largely go unheeded.

An estimated 700,000 Rohingya have fled from Burma to Bangladesh since August 2017 where they live in overcrowded camps. According to a recent report by the UN, the conditions of Rohingya living in the camps are so deplorable and the signs of repatriation largely remain impossible.

Also Read: Myanmar has done nothing to dismantle the system of violence and persecution of Rohingya; UN

The army responded with disproportionate force against the Rohingya, a Muslim-minority group from the region. More than 700,000 Rohingya fled to neighboring Bangladesh, and reports soon emerged of burned villages and massacres carried out by Myanmar’s military. The UN called the events a “textbook case of ethnic cleansing.” Suu Kyi’s refused to directly condemn the actions of the military.

Deterioration of Suu Kyi’s International image

In the following months and years, she was stripped of many honors and prizes, including a human rights prize from Amnesty International. In December 2019, Suu Kyi surprised the world again when she personally represented Myanmar before the International Court of Justice (ICJ) to defend the country on genocide charges.

Her appearance before the ICJ, where she denied that the Tatmadaw had any intention of wiping out the Rohingya in whole or in part, only added to the considerable damage to her international image.

Another landslide victory fell prey to a military coup

In November 2020, the NLD and Suu Kyi won another landslide victory in Myanmar’s general election. The military-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) objected to the results and demanded a new vote as soon as possible “in order to have an election that is free, fair, unbiased and free from unfair campaigning.” Nearly three months later, Suu Kyi’s government collapsed in a military coup.

Myanmar’s military has seized power after detaining Aung San Suu Kyi and other democratically elected leaders. Troops are patrolling the streets and a night-time curfew is in force, with a one-year state of emergency declared. The military alleges the recent landslide election victory by Ms. Suu Kyi’s party was marred by fraud. She urged supporters to “protest against the coup”.

The military takeover, this time around, follows weeks of tensions between the armed forces and the government following parliamentary elections lost by the army-backed opposition. The opposition had demanded a rerun of the election, raising allegations of widespread fraud.

Suu Kyi’s time in politics has been full of twists and turns. One thing that is crystal clear that her political journey has been overshadowed by the actions of military leadership. Suu Kyi rather served as a face-saving for real monsters in the troubled-politics of Myanmar.

In short, Aung San Suu Kyi has been considered both a savior and a disappointment. Perhaps, she has been the most visible and polarizing political figure in Myanmar’s modern history.

About Noshin Bashir

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