Opinion » Lead

Updated: November 17, 2012 00:17 IST

Pragmatic road to reconciliation

Baladas Ghoshal
Comment (8)   ·   print   ·   T  T  

Aung San Suu Kyi has chosen the path of constructive realism to achieve democracy in Myanmar

Aung San Suu Kyi, Myanmar’s champion of democracy, is on a landmark visit to India, the country where she spent several formative years as a student in New Delhi. The visit has dominated the headlines about her expression — though understated — of sadness at India’s decision to engage with the military rulers of Myanmar who kept her under detention for the better part of two decades. It has also been an opportunity for her to express what expectations she has from India, both as an opposition politician and as someone who is soon expected to lead her country. That calls for an objective assessment of her political role in Myanmar. Some have expressed feeling let-down that she is no longer a firebrand political activist, and that she has neither condemned the recent incidents of rioting in the Rakhine, in which the Rohingya suffered the most, nor spoken out against Myanmar’s institutionalised discrimination against the community. But considering the historical changes that are taking place in Myanmar and the challenges that lie ahead, her present approach is that of a pragmatic political leader who has eschewed confrontation to play a constructive role in the incremental political transformation of the country.

Long years of house arrest and isolation from the outside world, including from her own family, have transformed her into a seasoned politician. When the regime showed signs of reconciliation, she came to realise that a rigid and a confrontational stance with the regime could not just reverse the limited reforms the government had initiated under its road map to democracy, but could even make her politically irrelevant. Her pragmatism made things easier for the reformist President to take the next step — allowing her and her party the National League for Democracy (NLD) to take part in the electoral process, without which the reforms will not enjoy popular support or domestic legitimacy, nor receive the international recognition that the regime badly needed to come out of its isolation and scourge of sanctions. Or put differently, without the cooperation between her and the government, the regime would have never undertaken the political and economic reforms that it has, nor would the West have lifted the economic sanctions against Myanmar; the country would have remained in the international doghouse.

The obstacles

Suu Kyi is conscious of the lack of national capacity to transform Myanmar into a democratic state in the near future. Political institutions are in their infancy. The existence of Hluttaw (parliament) is not enough to usher in democracy in Myanmar. Parliament and Assembly members are inexperienced and ignorant about procedures. Most do not even know how to introduce a bill and table a resolution. The NLD is not in good shape as the party infrastructure she had built before the 1990 elections was all but destroyed by the military junta. Its overwhelming victory in the by-elections early this year was due to her own charisma and that cannot see her through all the time, particularly in the next elections in 2015. The NLD is now controlled by old people, some in their eighties, while younger party members are impatient to be inducted

Some smaller parties — including a breakaway group from the NLD which fought the 2010 elections as the National Democratic Front (NDF) — and received a few seats in parliament, could not win a single seat in the by-elections of 2012. They are apprehensive of being wiped out by the NLD in 2015, and have recently floated the idea of having a proportional representation system so that they can still maintain a presence in the future electoral process. The regime has shown willingness to accommodate their demand. The ruling party, the Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), is reported to be nervous about the challenge it might face from the NLD in 2015 and would like to play the smaller parties against the NLD.

Independent judiciary needed

Myanmar has a long history of failure in state and institution building. Today the military machine is all there is, with only the shadow of other institutions remaining. Civil society was completely debilitated, but now seems to be growing again, though on a smaller scale and under difficult circumstances. The problem lies in creating state institutions from scratch that can replace the military state that exists, not just in governance and administration, but also in the economy of the country. An independent judiciary is another precondition for the restoration of democracy in the country. In the absence of institutions and the vision of a new Burma that includes concerns of the ethnic groups in the country, any political change, even with a new civilian government, will be meaningless, for the army would still be there, lurking in the wings and waiting to overturn everything through a coup as it did in 1962.

Aware of these difficulties, Suu Kyi knows that she cannot afford to be impatient and push things through. She believes that President Thein Sein is “sincere” in his intent to bring about change in the country even while he faces formidable challenges from the hardliners in the armed forces and therefore needs her help in steering those changes. Thein Sein has even declared that he was prepared to accept Suu Kyi as the next president if the people of the country wanted it so. That will, however, require amendment to the present constitution that bars her from occupying the highest position in the country because of the foreign origin of her children. Suu Kyi herself has demanded the amendment, and going by the past when the constitution was amended to allow her to fight the by-elections, it may not be an unlikely possibility.

It is the same caution and pragmatism that has prompted her not to criticise the government and take sides on the sensitive Rohingya issue even though she has emphasised the necessity of restoring the rule of law and dealing with the root causes of the tensions. On November 7, Suu Kyi and lawmakers from ethnic minority parties called on the government to deploy more troops to restore peace and stability in the Rakhine state hit by recent violence and stressed that the concerns of both groups — the Rakhine Buddhists and the Rohingya Muslims — should be addressed. She may have disappointed some by not taking sides in a very critical and sensitive issue, but one cannot be both a politician and an activist.

(Baladas Ghoshal is distinguished fellow, Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies, and former Professor and Chair, Centre for Southeast Asian Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, Delhi.)

More In: Lead | Opinion

myanmar's democratic structure has a long way to go.It depends mainly on building it's democratic institutions,reconciliation among its vast and varied 130 ethnic communities,recognition of Rohingya's and to bring peace in Rakhine state ,not to be lenient to the vagaries of various international pressures and to build a true Multi ethnic secular state where all communities live and prosper in peace.That said,it is for Suu Kyi and her party NLD to face all the challenges that come ahead and to make Myanmar an all weather ally to its regional neighbours. So let's hope that it stands to the global expectations and becomes a vibrant player in the South Asian regional and security architecture.

Posted on: Nov 18, 2012 at 11:23 IST

Daw Suu is in the same league as Mahatma Gandhi and Madiba Mandela,
people who shape humanity, the world. She is Amay Suu to the people of
Myanmar, but all world claim her as their Leader embodying the
qualities of fearlessness, truth, non-violence and action to liberate
the people from tyranny – applicable to dictatorships and bad
democracies alike!!

It is the moral duty of all civilised nations to support Daw Suu and
it is also in India's national interest to do so now. India should
respond warmly to her call, "Please use your liberty to promote ours."

Amay Suu was right to say, "Injustice and lack of peace in [Myanmar]
means injustice and lack of peace for the rest of the world because it
threatens peace and justice everywhere else. We would like to remind
those who are simply looking at the economic benefits that they hope
to reap from Burma today that they are working against their own long
term interest and the long term interests of the international
community in general."

from:  D Mahapatra
Posted on: Nov 18, 2012 at 07:58 IST

The author accentuated more the welfare of people of Burma. Only Aung
San Suu Kyi can fan the message across to county that is “to make
Myanmar a democratic country”. In recently held incidence, Rohingya
issue, she made people to mumble against her stand, but she got the
power to defang the military power and suppress boorish intention held
by the military towards the country.

from:  Prasannajeet Mohanty
Posted on: Nov 17, 2012 at 23:38 IST

Aung San Suu Kyi's disenchantment is natural. But she should put
those dark days behind and look forward brighter future. Blaming
Junta, India's engagement with Junta --- will lead to troubles for
her. Suu Kyi must take advantage of the current global climate and
soft gestures of the Junta. If she slips from this golden
opportunity, Myanmar will be permanently ostracized both internally
and externally.

from:  Prof.A.Prabaharan
Posted on: Nov 17, 2012 at 16:01 IST

Aung San Suu Kyi is not gonna be happy with that cartoon of hers

from:  Kongkan Saikia
Posted on: Nov 17, 2012 at 07:26 IST

A very well researched article on the crusader for democracy in Burma it is surprising to find no mention of the inspiration the leader derived from the writings of Nehru. As a person involved with JNU one would have expected the relevance of Nehru to the life of the leaderw which she herself eulogized in her speech on 14th November 2012 in no small measures revealing intimate knowledge of Nehru and the anecdotes concering him and her father which a large number of Indians are unaware of. It is a pity we Indians are not taught about the sterling leadership qualities of India's first Prime Minister and have to hear it from a person living in a neighbouring country whose struggle for deomocratic freedom should be prescribed as a text book in our educational institutions.

from:  R.Vijaykumar
Posted on: Nov 17, 2012 at 05:24 IST

The distinguished scholar has presented the realities in Burma. The military had an upper
Hand earlier and the position continues to be so, even now. The political parties and the
Civil society has not grown there like other countries, and the Burmese leader has realized
Her limitations as well. Presidential or parliamentary democracy can succeed only if the
People are ready for that. The writer feels that the Burmese leader in her heart of hearts
Has realized this reality as well, considering the statement made by her as well earlier,
And hence this " path of reconciliation"

from:  C.p.Chandra das
Posted on: Nov 17, 2012 at 05:05 IST

The article takes an unbiased, candid and factual stance.It is an
absolute delight to read about Suu Kyi, lady who never fails to
inspire.She is a rare and inimical combination of an activist
politician not necessarily in that order. Suu Kyi's matured political
overtures aggravate our faith in her stoical responses towards a Junta
government that stands between her commitment and singular aim of
leading Myanmar to a democratic end. Her interviews clearly define her
renewed vigor in joining politics and leading from the front instead of
indulging in squabbles with the ruling military regime that would
deviate her from achieving the people-oriented democratic objective.She
reiterates that she was once saddened by India's stance in
collaborating with the Junta government but presently she respects
India's diplomatic requirements that saw a verbal correspondence with
the military regime.Rakhine region clearly is a disturbing issue and
her root cause of analysis of the conflict is rational.

from:  Upasana
Posted on: Nov 17, 2012 at 03:27 IST
Show all comments
This article is closed for comments.
Please Email the Editor



Recent Article in Lead

Among the accomplishments of the Nobel Laureate which were enumerated by the Nobel Committee were his Cairo speech to reach out to the Muslim world.

Obama’s Nobel no longer undeserved

Barack Obama's accomplishments listed by the Nobel Committee will not match his recent, path-breaking moves towards Myanmar, Cuba and Iran. »