Untangling Aung San Suu Kyi and the Burmese State
These days, Muslims everywhere seem to be labelled as terrorists, killing innocent people in the name Allah. Disregarding how false this statement is, Muslims are facing genocide in a very unexpected part of the world – Myanmar.
Myanmar has long been a hotbed of political instability. In the late 1940s, General Aung San led a revolution against British rule. However, right before his dream could be realized, he was assassinated . Afterwards, the military took control of the government, followed by years of targeting the natives of the country and active genocide against many groups of ethnicities.
Enter Aung San Suu Kyi, daughter of Revolutionary General Aung San. Suu Kyi is seen as the leader of the democratic movement in Myanmar and leader of the NLD or National League for Democracy. However, she has faced incredible adversity in her fight. Suu Kyi married a Britisher and mothered two British-born sons. She then went back to Myanmar to fight for progress in the country. The country’s military led government did not approve her actions and forced her into house arrest for 15 years. During her house arrest, her husband became increasingly ill in England. The government claimed that it would allow her to break her house arrest to visit her dying husband after incredible protests in the country. Suu Kyi claims she knew better though; if she left, she would not ever be allowed back in the country. She chose to stay under house arrest, and never saw her husband again, solidifying her devotion to the cause in the eyes of the people.
In 2010, she was finally released from her house arrest, being praised internationally for her resilience. Her troubles would not stop there, however. Since her release, there have been speculations that she may be reconciling with the current government. However, in June of 2015, the military government made an amendment to the constitution that keeps any candidate who has immediate-foreign born relatives from becoming president – a move many speculate is targeted specifically against Suu Kyi. By July, Suu Kyi and the NLD had decided to stand up to the government and run in the elections, whether Suu Kyi was able to become President or not.
Not everyone is a fan of Suu Kyi’s return to power. Among them, the minority Muslim group, known as the Rohingya, who currently do not have the support of the NLD or the ruling government. The Rohingya are Muslims who have lived in Myanmar for several generations, but are not considered to be citizens of the country. However, the 2015 election is the first time that the 500,000 eligible Rohingya voters (out of 1.3 million) are NOT allowed to vote – a fact that they are understandably not taking well. The government has declared them to be foreigners, thus barring them from entering the polls.
Over countless years, the Rohingya have been persecuted and recklessly murdered by others in the nation, which the Human Rights Watch (HRW) has labelled as “ethnic cleansing” – particularly the 969. The 969, lead by (crazy) monk Ashin Wirathu, who is known as the “Burmese Bin Laden”, are known for their stance against the Rohingya, warning that they are taking over the country. The HRW has been cited saying, “Burmese officials, community leaders and Buddhist monks organized and encouraged ethnic Arakanese backed by state security forces to conduct coordinated attacks on Muslim neighborhoods and villages in October 2012 to terrorize and forcibly relocate the population…Included in the death toll were 28 children who were hacked to death, including 13 under age 5.” in a 2013 report . Not all Buddhists agree with the 969, though (thankfully). In fact, the Dalai Lama has openly condemned the actions of the 969 and they are seen as a terrorist organization by many, but at the least, Buddhist extremists. That all being said and done, the government does not openly condemn the 969’s actions, which has caused a lot of strife on an international scale.
If you thought for a moment that the current discriminatory atmosphere was the only thing making this year’s elections difficult, I regret to inform you that’d you’d be completely wrong. There’s several things to take into account when looking at the elections this year. The first is that even if the NLD win’s a majority of the democratic elections held throughout the country, 25% of the parliament is reserved for military personnel. And though the NLD wants to change this law, they’ll have to win a majority of the seats to even have a chance, which could also take years. Furthermore, these elections aren’t for the president, but for the parliamentary seats, who THEN choose the president, something that doesn’t need to be done until March of 2016. Suu Kyi, who is also the favorite to become president, legally can not do so since the constitutional change earlier this year. When Suu Kyi was elected to a position last time in 1990, the government declared that she could not take office until constitutional amendments that were in progress were completed – a process that took 18 years (conveniently). This is not to mention the economic effect this will have on the country (which I’m not even gonna bother to go into… but it’s in a bad place right now) . There’s also the actual population of the state to look at, 70% of which lives in rural areas and use firewood as their main source of energy for cooking. That should tell you a bit about their technological development and outreach as well.
That’s not to say some things haven’t gotten better. In the urban setting, the use of cars has increased by 42% and the number of cell-phone users has increased 15 times. The number of buildings being constructed has also drastically increased. There are 1,400 LESS political prisoners now than there were just 4 years ago. But there’s still incredible social issues taking place. In a country that had a staggering 1,700 political prisoners in 2011, and 140,000 displaced citizens due to violence, we must heed Suu Kyi’s warning . She has consistently warned the U.S. and the world, that we must not only look at their progress, but have a “healthy skepticism” about the reforms taking place.
As confusing as all of this is, and however dim the light of hope seems at the end of the road for all the groups involved, I strongly believe that if we heed Suu Kyi’s words, and keep a level of skepticism whilst trying to move forward, we can truly begin to make a difference in the part of the world. At the very least, the election results, which should come out in a few days, will allow us to speculate about the future a little bit better.