Feature

Myanmar: Suu Kyi is still defiant

In a speech shortly after being released from seven years of house arrest, Suu Kyi signaled to her supporters that she remains uncowed.

Freedom lovers rejoiced at the release of Aung San Suu Kyi last week, said Florence Compain in France’s Le Figaro. Shortly after being freed from seven years of house arrest, Suu Kyi—the leader of the democracy movement in Myanmar, also known as Burma—spoke to a rally of thousands of supporters outside her home, signaling that she remains uncowed. “Democracy is when the people keep a government in check,” she told them. Her release by a regime that has kept her confined for 15 of the past 21 years came just six days after a national election in which Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy was a helpless bystander. Election or no, junta leader Gen. Than Shwe still pulls Myanmar’s strings.

Some had hoped that the election, the first in 20 years, might bring change, said Rowan Callick in The Australian. But it was just a charade to give the regime spurious legitimacy. The new Union Solidarity and Development Party, a cat’s paw for the military regime, won 80 percent of the seats in the new parliament—hardly surprising, given how many people were coerced into voting for it. Whenever one of the junta’s candidates seemed in danger of losing, the vote count was halted and he was declared the victor.

It’s tempting to liken the release of Suu Kyi to that of Nelson Mandela in South Africa, said Gideon Rachman in the Financial Times. But it’s a false comparison, raising false hopes. Before Mandela was released, he’d engaged in years of secret negotiations with the apartheid regime in Pretoria, which had been badly hurt by international sanctions. By contrast, anti-government forces in Myanmar are divided, and Western sanctions have had little impact because China, India, and other Asian nations are eager to do business with the junta and get their hands on the country’s gas, oil, and other natural resources. Even Suu Kyi seems prepared to reverse her long-standing policy of supporting international sanctions.

Suu Kyi isn’t the generals’ only headache, says Kyaw Zwa Moe in the Burmese exile website The Irrawaddy. There are more than 100 ethnic groups in Myanmar—perhaps Asia’s most ethnically diverse nation—and almost all have their own militias. Some groups have signed cease-fire agreements with the regime, but others continue to fight for autonomy. On Election Day, the Democratic Karen Buddhist Army, an ethnic splinter group, attacked government troops and buildings; 10,000 refugees fled across the border into Thailand as a result. The danger now is that other armed rebel groups, disillusioned by this sham election, could take up arms and spark a civil war. Getting a chance to vote was small recompense for the restive population of our cursed homeland.

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