Published:  01:00 AM, 13 September 2017

Suu Kyi's silence on Rohingya issue

Suu Kyi's silence on Rohingya issue

Following its independence from the British in 1948, Myanmar experienced political regimes which were plagued by countrywide serious insurgencies led by several rebel groups. These groups had their own ideologies which were either completely neglected or not paid sufficient attention by the mainstream political parties. Resultantly, rebel groups frequently demanded their respective secessionist states and occasionally confronted with violence and uprisings.

The civil governments of a young country at that time repeatedly failed in their attempts to tame the rebel groups. This critical incapacity of the civil administration facilitated the military intervention in politics for so long that Myanmar could be pronounced synonymous to military rule.

Although ethnic violence and minority conflicts provided the primary excuse for military junta to be in the political helm, major ethnic escalation ceased to exists for a reasonable period of time. In particular, military administration arranged talks with the rebel groups in several phases and by 2004, major separatist groups signed a ceasefire agreement with the government.

However, the Rohingya issue was not resolved properly. Rather, the issue was kept alive as a weapon for military junta and political leaders so that they can win the Buddhist majority support by oppressing Muslims. In line with this tradition, anti-Muslim sentiment began to rise at the beginning of 2010sand several incidents occurred in various states.

The Human Rights Watch said that Myanmar authorities and members of Arakanese groups have committed crimes against humanity in a campaign of ethnic cleansing against Rohingya Muslims in Arakan State since June 2012. In its 153-page report, this human right watchdog condemns Burmese government, local authorities, and Buddhist monks for their direct and indirect role in incinerating Rohingya inhabitants which led to displacing more than 125,000 Rohingya and other Muslims. The current violence and vandalism against Rohingya Muslims are so intense that remain unmatched by any records in the history.

Among all odds, there was a hope that Aung San Suu Kyi (Suu Kyi) who was also being oppressed in various forms for15 years would stand firmly against all injustice and communal violence. But it did not take long to turn the hope into despair. Nobody could ever imagine that once an 'iron lady' who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize could shun her morality and justice so quickly and cheaply. No surprise, Suu Kyi is now concerned more about her political career than stabilizing communal peace particularly in the Arakan State. Her rise in the political power very recently says a lot about the underlying story.

Suu Kyi's political career started to emerge in the late 1980s. InSeptember1988, when a massive pro-democracy uprising against military regime rocked the nation, Suu Kyi was mandated as the chief of National League for Democracy (NLD). However, in July 1989, she was placed under house arrest. In 1990, the military government that was ruling the country organized a parliamentary election expecting that they would manage to win enough seats required for forming a parliamentarian government.

The hope cemented on the idea that the main opposition (NLD) leader was put under house arrest and she would be unable to capitalize on public support. However, Suu Kyi was the sensation of politics at that time because people were annoyed too much by the frequent military intervention in their daily activities. NLD secured a landslide victory winning 392 of 485 seats. The military government however, refused to transfer the power.

Despite securing public mandate, Suu Kyi found no strategic option to turn the political table in her favor. Her party along with other ethnic minority groups called for a swift transfer of power. At the same time, NLD tried to mobilize international community to support their demand.

At some points, the USA and other European countries imposed sanction against Myanmar but these sanctions were of no avail to break the junta's determination. In pursuit of creating more pressure on military government, a small group of elected NLD and legislators of National Democratic Party (NDP) led by Dr Sein Win, cousin of Suu Kyi, formed the National Coalition Government of the Union of Burma (NCGUB) with Dr Sein Win as prime minister. The NCGUB joined and cooperated with the Democratic Alliance of Burma, an umbrella group of ethnic rebellions. These events were followed by the arrest of many NLD leaders. Eventually, the NCGUB sunk into obscurity in the face of dire military oppression and arrest.

When it was proved that the political trump card available to Suu Kyi was close to none, she was released from the house arrest in July 1995.In November, she pulled her party's representatives out of the national convention. Moreover, in an attempt to mobilize public mandate, Suu Kyi initiated country-wide long-march which was marked by the attack on her and other NLD members in Depayin village in May 2003. At worse, NLD would soon see its disintegration when the party along with the United Nationalities Alliance (UNA of ethnic minorities) boycotted the national Convention organized in 2004.Many non-NLD opposition politicians joined the electoral process and a fraction of the NLD formed a separate political party, National Democratic Force (NDF), to participate in the polls.

In an attempt to formalize the military rule into civilian façade, an election was held in November2010. A total of 37 parties contested the elections. However, a handful number of parties and individuals including Suu Kyi were excluded from the contest. This prompted NLD to boycott the polls which ultimately led the official dissolution of NLD. On the other hand, the splinter of NLD, the NDF, registered and contested the election. As expected, the military-backed party (USDP) won the election. Suu Kyi along with her party was a kind of socially ostracized.

The economic and political interests that the military regime might have in Myanmar turned into maturity. To sustain them further military needed a power-sharing coalition with civil polity. The ostracized NLD, which was dissolved earlier, was an option. Toward this, the military government amended the political party registration law allowing Suu Kyi to contest for future election. In exchange, she gave up her confrontational approach, a compromise that civil society never expected from her. It was a direct slap to her supporters who fought a long-way opposing the military regime accepting unjust political repression.

Although the NLD won in the 2015 election, the party is still under the shadow of military prowess. When Suu Kyi announced the aim of a democratic federal union as the NLD government's guiding principle, Commander-in-Chief Senior General warned not to skip steps outlined in the Nation Wide Ceasefire Agreements (NCA). In addition, the military already has promulgated that without the military role in politics, no one including the NLD can improve the political situation. In addition to the presence of military MPs in the parliament, a large number of mid- or senior-level civil officers have been drawn from military. Almost all government institutions are currently run by soldier-cum-civil servants.

Suu Kyi knows that her political ambition cannot be materialized without echoing the military tone. Military kept Rohingya issue unresolved for its own interest particularly maintaining the support from the Buddhist monks. The current ethnic cleansing against Rohingya Muslims is part of this strategy. However, the silence of Suu Kyi is gravely upsetting. And more so is witnessing how cheaply once a highly-acclaimed benevolent leader shuns her non-communal moral attitudes.


The writer is Assistant Professor and Head, Department of Economics and Finance, University of Nizwa, Oman

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