Why Suu Kyi is Myanmar's best bet
Myanmar has a leader in whom her citizens can place implicit trust.
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Twenty years ago, Aung San Suu Kyi was released from the first of her house arrests and on October 4, 1995, she went to visit the revered U Vinaya’s monastery in the Kayin state — her first journey outside Yangon in six years. She wrote of the journey in the road to Thamanya in narratives which are rich with the fragrance of long-awaited freedom and the suppressed excitement of a child setting off on an adventure.
The deep sense of connection she feels with the Burmese countryside is evident as she describes white stupas wreathed in morning mist and bamboo fences with their delicate frieze of flowering vines. As she passes through smaller townships of Mon state, there is a distinct softening of her tone as she describes the NLD offices.
Today, the country is awash with the same red and white. And Suu Kyi, under the shadows since 2012 because of her perceived indifference towards the Rohingya Muslims, has returned as the queen of world media. I guess it helps that she still looks glorious despite the greying temples and an evident frailty — factors which had earlier emphasised the vulnerability of her feminine image, are now conveniently conflated with that of the democracy movement of Myanmar and thus ensuring perpetuation of western paternalism. Suu Kyi, during this entire period when her image went under eclipse, maintained apparent calm and remained committed to winning the NLD victory rather than kowtowing to the singular pro-human rights, above-politics approach everyone expected of her.
So what does the NLD victory mean? First and foremost, there is something distinctly unapologetic in this victory. Suu Kyi, going against her earlier insistence on not endorsing creative artists who have been vocal in supporting the democracy movement, has in the wake of the election results invited into her home Burmese filmmakers, musicians and actors who have helped make her campaign a success.
Role of an artist
She has openly acknowledged the role of hip-hop artist Anegga whose feisty "Fighting Peacock NLD" converted many a political meeting into a dance party and has allowed herself to be photographed with smiling groups of celebrities.
But this is exactly where the reasons for celebration end. With the country’s constitution debarring Suu Kyi from becoming president, who would the NLD promote as its presidential candidate? A name doing the rounds is of NLD veteran and emeritus chairman, U Tin Oo. Arguably, U Tin Oo, a former commander of the Burmese armed forces and a highly decorated soldier, would be considered reasonably senior in the tatmadaw (Myanmar Armed Forces) hierarchy to command respect among his parliamentarian colleagues, particularly those from the military.
But the fact remains that U Tin Oo is 88-year-old and had earlier declined the possibility of his becoming president citing health reasons.
Unfortunately, the NLD, even after 27 years of its formation, remains a singlewoman party, drawing almost all of its considerable legitimacy from the iconic status of its leader. Diehard optimists are, of course, still willing to put their money on a last-minute amendment of the 2008 Constitution so that Suu Kyi can take over as President.
Bringing up the rear of the rainbow is a Pandora’s Box of problems, social, economic and political ones which the tatmadaw-backed USDP has been struggling with since 2012. Of course, at the top of the heap is the complex ethnic question. Just before the November 8 elections, the government was successful in signing a Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement which unfortunately is not as inclusive as it should have been with only half of the recognised ethnic groups deigning to put their signatures on the dotted line. While pro-NLD newspapers of Myanmar celebrate the election results with headlines such as, Ethnic Parties left hanging on the phone for NLD coalition offer, the ethnic parties in question are already sending out warning signals.
Wirathu, the face of the radical Buddhist 969 movement (which has evolved into the far more structured and hierarchical Ma Ba Tha and with which there are ugly rumours of the USDP being hand in glove) has expressed doubt in the NLD’s capability to govern. The Nationalities Brotherhood Federation (NBF), a coalition of 23 ethnic parties, is apprehensive that the NLD’s single party dominance in the parliament will mean ethnic issues taking a backseat. To be fair to Suu Kyi, her party has repeatedly invited ethnic minorities to the negotiating table and yet it is also true that the NLD continues to be perceived as a Bamar-centric party and Suu Kyi as a pro-Buddhist-Burmese. But for the moment and despite misgivings, let us say que sera sera.
Let us find consolation in the thought that Myanmar has a leader in whom her citizens can place implicit trust.