Myanmar’s woes

Silencing Ms. Suu Kyi will not help the junta tighten its control over a rebellious country

Updated - April 29, 2022 01:05 am IST

Published - April 29, 2022 12:05 am IST

The conviction of Aung San Suu Kyi, Myanmar’s deposed State Counsellor and pro-democracy leader, in a corruption case, shows nothing but the desperation of the junta to silence her. For the military, which seems determined to destroy the Southeast Asian nation’s popular democracy, Ms. Suu Kyi, under house arrest ever since the February 2021 coup, remains the enemy number one. The conviction, in a kangaroo court, was based on the testimony of the former Chief Minister of Yangon who claimed that he had handed over to her $6,00,000 and gold in return for favours. The prosecution has presented no evidence. She was convicted earlier on five other charges and sentenced to six years in jail. In the corruption case, the court jailed her for five years. The junta has slapped more cases on her, with the clear objective of keeping the 76-year-old leader in prison. Since the coup, it has arrested 10,300 political prisoners, including most of the elected lawmakers of Ms. Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy. The forces have also killed at least 1,798 civilians and threatened to “annihilate” all opponents.

Myanmar’s military is one of the most stubborn enemies of democracy and basic human freedoms, having ruled for nearly 50 years using brute force. But even in the darkest moments of Myanmar’s past, there was popular resistance. And over the past three decades, Ms. Kyi has been the embodiment of that resistance. Between 1989 and 2010, she spent 15 years under house arrest. The military, faced with international isolation and growing domestic anger, agreed to release her and share power with civilians through a quasi-democratic arrangement. They barred her from becoming President and reserved key portfolios, including the Defence Ministry, for the Generals. Still, the 2015 and 2020 elections saw overwhelming public support for her party, and the country witnessed, barring the military crackdown on Rohingya Muslims, relative stability and growing economic opportunities. But the military was worried whether an increasingly popular and powerful Ms. Suu Kyi, after her second consecutive election, would clip its privileges. It was this fear that prompted the Generals to stage another coup. They may have succeeded in reversing Myanmar’s limited experiment with democracy, but the coup has also wreaked havoc on the country. The Opposition has taken up arms, pushing the country to the brink of civil war. A nationwide strike has crippled the country’s economy. The political opponents of the coup have also formed an alternative unity government. So far, the military has managed to cling on to power through sheer repression. But it is not a sustainable model. Even silencing Ms. Suu Kyi would not help the junta tighten its control over a divided, impoverished, and rebellious country.

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