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Myanmar’s democracy icon has been disgraced

She was once seen as a beacon for human rights – a disciplined activist who gave up her freedom to challenge the ruthless military generals that had ruled Myanmar for decades.

In 1991, Aung San Suu Kyi was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, while still under house arrest, and hailed as “an excellent example of the strength of the helpless”.

But her response to the Rohingya crisis since becoming Myanmar’s de facto leader has resulted in a decline from what few predicted.

The road to power

Ms. Suu Kyi spent nearly 15 years in detention from 1989 to 2010. Her personal struggle to bring democracy to Myanmar (also known as Burma) ̵

1; made her an expression International statue of peaceful resistance in the face of oppression.

In November 2015, she led the National League for Democracy (NLD) to a resounding victory in Myanmar’s first publicly disputed election in 25 years.

US President Barack Obama meets Myanmar's Aung San Suu Kyi at the White House Oval Office, September 19, 2012
The Obama administration lifted sanctions on Myanmar in exchange for democratic reforms

Myanmar’s constitution prohibits her from becoming president because she has children who are foreign citizens. But Ms. Suu Kyi, now 75, is seen by many as a de facto leader.

Her official title is a state counselor. The President, Win Myint, is a close aide.

Political pedigree

Ms. Suu Kyi is the daughter of Myanmar’s independence hero, General Aung San.

He was assassinated when she was only two years old, just before Myanmar gained independence from British colonial rule in 1948.

In 1960, she went to India with her mother, Daw Khin Kyi, who was appointed as Myanmar’s ambassador to Delhi.

Four years later, she went to Oxford University in England, where she studied philosophy, politics and economics. There, she met her future husband, Michael Aris.

After living and working in Japan and Bhutan, she settled in England to raise their two children, Alexander and Kim, but Myanmar was never far from her thoughts.

When she returned to Rangoon (now Yangon) in 1988 – to take care of her critically ill mother – Myanmar was in the midst of a major upheaval.

Thousands of students, office workers and monks took to the streets to demand democratic reform.

“I can’t because my father’s daughter remains indifferent to everything that’s going on,” she said in a speech in Rangoon on August 26, 1988. She continued to lead the rebellion against the dictator at that time, General Ne Win.

Under house arrest

Inspired by US civil rights leaders Martin Luther King and Mahatma Gandhi’s nonviolent campaigns of India, she staged protests and traveled across the country, calling for peaceful democratic reforms. and free election.

But the demonstrations were brutally suppressed by the military, which seized power in the September 18 coup d’etat, which was placed under house arrest the following year.

The military government called the national election in May 1990, for which Suu Kyi’s NLD convincingly won – but the administration refused to give control.

Ms. Suu Kyi was placed under house arrest in Rangoon for six years, until she was released in July 1995.

She was placed under house arrest again in September 2000, when she tried to go to Mandalay City to defy travel restrictions.

She was unconditionally released in May 2002, but just over a year later she was jailed after a clash between her supporters and a crowd backed by the government.

Aung San Suu Kyi greets supporters on her release from probation in 2010
Huge crowd welcomed Aung San Suu Kyi when she was released from her home in 2010

She was then allowed to return home – but was placed under house arrest.

She can sometimes meet other NLD officials and chosen diplomats, but during her early years she is often in solitary confinement. She was not allowed to see her two sons or her husband, who died of cancer in March 1999.

The military authorities had offered to allow her to come to England to see him when he was seriously ill, but she felt compelled to refuse for fear she would not be allowed to return to the country.

Rejoin politics

Ms. Suu Kyi sided with Myanmar’s first election in two decades on November 7, 2010 but was released from probation six days later. Her son Kim was allowed to visit her for the first time in a decade.

When the new government embarked on the reform process, Ms. Suu Kyi and her party rejoined the political process.

They won 43 of the 45 disputed seats in April 2012, in a strong support statement. Ms. Suu Kyi is sworn in as a congressman and leader of the opposition.

In May of the following year, she left Myanmar for the first time in 24 years, with a sign of clear conviction that its new leaders would allow her to return.

Books featuring the face of Aung San Suu Kyi in Myanmar after her party won elections in November 2015
The NLD won in November 2015

The Rohingya Crisis

Since becoming Myanmar’s state adviser, her leadership role has been defined by treating the country’s Muslim minority Rohingya.

In 2017, hundreds of thousands of Rohingya fled to neighboring Bangladesh due to a military crackdown flared by deadly attacks on police stations in Rakhine state.

Myanmar now faces genocide charges at the International Court of Justice, while the International Criminal Court is investigating the country for crimes against humanity.

Suu Kyi’s former international supporters accused her of doing nothing to prevent rape, murder, and the possibility of genocide by refusing to condemn the still strong army or admitting atrocities. .

Some initially thought she was a pragmatic politician trying to run a multi-ethnic country with a complicated history.

But her personal protection of the military’s actions at last year’s ICJ hearing in La Hay is seen as a new turning point that erases what little remains of her international reputation.

However, back home, the “Lady”, as Suu Kyi is known, is still very popular among the majority of Buddhists, who are not very fond of the Rohingya.

Reform stagnated

Since coming to power, Ms. Suu Kyi and her NLD government have also faced much criticism for prosecuting journalists and activists using colonial law.

Progress has been made in some areas, but the military continues to hold a quarter of the seats in parliament and control key ministries including defense, the interior and the border.

In August 2018, Ms. Suu Kyi described the generals in her cabinet as “pretty sweet”.

Analysts say Myanmar’s democratic transition appears to have stalled.

The country is currently facing one of the worst outbreaks of Covid-19 in Southeast Asia, causing new strains of bacteria to its already poor health care system as lockdowns wreak havoc. Livelihoods.

However, Ms. Suu Kyi is still popular. A 2020 survey by the People’s Coalition on Trusted Election, a watchdog, found that 79% of people trust her – up from 70% the year before.

Derek Mitchell, the former US Ambassador to Myanmar told the BBC: “The story of Aung San Suu Kyi talks about us as much as about her. She may not change. She can be consistent and we are not. know fully who she is intricate.

“We must note that we should not give people an iconic image other than humans.”

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