Suu Kyi makes last bid for freedom

Lawyers for Aung San Suu Kyi yesterday filed a special appeal on her house arrest at Burma’s High Court in a last ditch attempt at securing her release.

The Nobel laureate, who will turn 65 next month, has been forced to take her appeal to the Special Appellate Bench in the remote jungle capital of Naypyidaw. In February the High Court rejected a second appeal against her 18-month sentence, which was handed down in August last year.

Since that rejection, however, the political landscape in Burma has changed: her opposition National League for Democracy (NLD) party has been legally dissolved and Suu Kyi stands no chance of playing an official role in the elections; critics of the junta saw her sentencing as a ploy to keep her locked up during the polls.

Apart from an NLD splinter group known as the National Democratic Force, the junta faces little opposition in the country’s first elections in 20 years and appears set to hold onto power, likely under the guise of a civilian government.

With that secured, Suu Kyi’s fate becomes murkier: now that she and her party present less of an obvious threat, the junta may look to appease its international critics and release her.

But, according to the Thailand-based Burmese political analyst, Win Min, she can still be a mobilising figure regardless of whether or not she holds political status.

“I don’t think they’ll release her. They are worried that she can still disrupt the elections by pushing for people to boycott them,” he said.

Suu Kyi, the daughter of Burma’s independence hero, General Aung San, has been kept under house arrest for 14 of the past 20 years. She was first imprisoned following the 1990 elections, which her party won in a landslide victory.

The NLD last week marked its final hours as a political party; senior party members have said that the group will concentrate on social work and shaping the ‘body politic’ of Burma.

Four senior NLD members, including spokesperson Khin Maung Swe, have split off to form the National Democratic Force (NDF). Khin Maung Swe told DVB last week that the group would register for the elections and become one of around 30 parties to challenge the incumbent.

Win Min said that the decision to contest the elections was a “strategic position” aimed at “filling the gap” left by the NLD.

“They’re not going against the NLD; it just gives them a choice whether or not run in the elections; they might still boycott,” he said. “The [junta] is holding the elections anyway and they think they already have some legitimacy because ethnic groups and third force parties are running.”

He added that the NDF might give “some legitimacy”, but that they also provided people with an opposition party to vote for.

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