Burma's political turmoil runs ever deeper

Pascal Khoo-Thwe

Aug 14, 2009 (DVB), It is hard to imagine what kind of life Aung San Suu Kyi would now be leading had she not taken the decision to plunge headlong into the brutal world of Burmese politics in 1988.

More than twenty years ago, she was leading the quiet and stable life of an academic and loving mother to two young children, and would have been likely to follow that trajectory, with its own achievements and satisfactions, had circumstances not forced her to choose a very different path. Now that path is again barricaded, and beyond the walls her future is equally uncertain.

Whether she has taken the right or wrong decision for herself and her family, most of the time her life story is less to do with her but more about the mentality and desperation of her supporters and her opponents. Many people who support her cling on to her name with desperation in an effort to further their fight for freedom and democracy while ignoring the needs for discipline, tolerance and consistency that she advocates. On the other hand, her critics, mostly people who supported her when the going was good, cite her lack of flexibility on political matters.

It all comes about because both have been unable to persuade or shift the generals whose grip on power has been consolidated by the monetary and military support of opportunistic nations and conglomerates. Moreover, with bickering rife among opposition groups, not many people seem to consider the fact that infighting is part of the process before ‘victory’ is achieved, and this is made worse by the 'winner-takes-all' politics.

One thing for sure, her name is often used and misused by both political activists and the military, in the same way that previous rulers of Burma used her father, Aung San’s memory, after his assassination. Choosing her cause is as easy as picking fallen fruits on the ground, but it is not easy to fight for it. At the same time, criticizing her is as easy as shooting a bird in a cage.

She was regarded by almost the whole of Burma as the saviour of the nation when she came into the Burmese political scene in August 1988. Now, however, she is seen as the victim of ruthless generals, and some former supporters even go so far as to blame her for the troubles she is facing, because she has been unable to deliver them the ‘democracy’ they expected.

Similarly, her role as the daughter of the national hero has been overtaken imperceptibly by her own acquired status as the lone freedom fighter, but neither her supporters nor opponents have been able to accept the subtle differences between the two roles. Many would still like to think that she is the only person who could save the country single-handedly, thus ignoring many opportunities to solve some of the real problems for our country in the process. We just hope and pray too much with too little prepared plans and actions. We just like other people to do it for us but criticize them if they make mistakes.

Even if she is allowed to take part in political activities in the future, there would still be problems for Suu Kyi when it comes to tackling the intricate and deep-rooted problems of the country, either in her capacity as a figurehead of the nation or leader of a political party. Burma has never matured to a stage where a head of state can act solely in the interests of the whole nation without implicating his or her political influence and affiliation. Many old political figures were in politics solely because they were involved in the struggle for the country’s independence, not because of their ability to rule the nation or run a government. The situation is not much better at the moment.

The turmoil has been compounded and complicated by support for the junta from allied countries. Currently, the army attempts to possess nuclear weapons with the help of North Korea as a way frightening its neighbours into submission, but it could also attract more aggressive foreign intervention which could fracture the army and the nation further.

Despite the dangers, the junta is likely to use the strategy as the bargaining chip in its dealings with the international community in the same way that North Korea has been doing, having already jeopardised the option of using Suu Kyi’s release as political currency.

Now that Aung San Suu Kyi will be imprisoned for the coming future, opposition groups, supporters and detractors have to think hard about the best way to push the junta into negotiations. But without coordinated international or at least regional efforts, it would be a long time before the country could enjoy real freedom. It would not be the end of the problems for the generals either, even if they could get rid of her and her supporters. Burmese politics can mutate into various ‘unpleasant’ forms as long as the people are regarded as the enemy by the government, be it military or civilian.

Burma's ruling generals, who believe in many kinds of prophecy, necromancy and numerology, would be wise to heed Suu Kyi's late husband, Michael Aris’ warning, quoting the Burmese proverb, ‘Touch my wife, watch my knife’. Domestic and international anger towards them is growing ever more palpable, and various minor concession from the junta are an acknowledgement of this, but anger and infighting often blurs the potential for a clear-cut strategy to tackle them with. Superstition and threats alone will not shift the generals, but pragmatism from their opponents can be a lethal weapon

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