Term Paper: Aung San Suu Kyi Comparison

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[. . .] The military placed the democracy groups under surveillance and subjected members to harassment. From 1989 to 1990, over 500,000 citizens were forcibly evacuated from their urban residences into disease-ridden "satellite towns" (Clements) Many of those evacuated were supporters of Aung San Suu Kyi's NLD party.

NLD and the Elections

During this time, Suu Kyi continued speaking before large crowds, drawing people to defy curfew laws to attend NLD meetings.

During many of her talks, she faced down troops who had been ordered to shoot her. While many people initially listened to her out of curiosity, many were won over by her courage and passion.

She spoke eloquently about the need for democracy and advocated various ways to conduct acts of non-violent civil disobedience (Kurlantzick).

In an effort to quell her growing popularity, the SLORC placed the charismatic leader under house arrest in 1989. However, this move made Suu Kyi into an even more sympathetic figure for democracy, both in Burma as well as the rest of the world. Bowing both to internal pressure as well as international criticism, the SLORC junta decided to hold the promised elections in May 1990 (Thadithil).

Prior to the elections, SLORC troops rounded up several thousand more NLD supporters from the cities and transported them to the satellite areas. With most of her supporters put away and Suu Kyi under house arrest, the SLORC felt confident it would win the elections (Thadithil).

To the SLORC's chagrin, however, the NLD won 392 out of the 485 seats for parliament (Kurlantzick). Initially, the SLORC party promised to honor the results of the election. The SLORC leaders even invited NLD elected representatives to assume power as soon as possible. Observers believe that this stance arose from the SLORC party's desire to blunt international criticism and to help encourage foreign investment into the country.

This stance, however, was short-lived, as the SLORC regime annulled the results of the polls soon after. The military junta assumed power and further tightened its control. More NLD members were arrested. Instead, the SLORC re-instituted Martial Law and vowed to remain in power until a pro-military government could be installed in its place. The government also refused to release Suu Kyi despite a growing international clamor.

The growing international support was particularly evident in 1991, when Suu Kyi was awarded the Nobel Prize for Peace. The Nobel Committee heralded Suu Kyi as "one of the most extraordinary examples of civil courage in Asia in recent years" (Straub).

Despite this prestigious recognition, the military government refused to let her leave the country to accept the award. Nevertheless, human rights activists around the world hoped the award would lead to other governments to impose sanctions against the military junta. Others hoped that this award and the resulting international attention would serve to protect Suu Kyi from harsher repressive measures, such as arrest or even execution.

In January 1993, the military junta finally convened the long-overdue Constitutional Convention. However, instead of the duly elected government representatives, the convention members were mostly people selected by the military. Despite the election results, the NLD was only allotted 88 seats. Over the next three years, there was much debate, though no constitution was drafted. Frustrated over the charade, the NLD delegates withdrew from the constitutional convention in 1996 (Thadithil).

Throughout this time, the SLORC continued its systematic repression of civil rights. Since Buddhism was a central part of Burmese life, monks and religious figures were a frequent target. In one incident that occurred in Mandalay in September 1990, SLORC troops entered a monastery, disrobed, beat and imprisoned several religious leaders. To escape imprisonment, torture or execution, some opposition leaders fled to border areas that were beyond SLORC control (Silverstein 440).

Despite their stranglehold, the SLORC continued to face vocal opposition, from both Suu Kyi and her supporters. Muslim groups that were initially vocal about religious repression were forced to flee to Bangladesh after several leaders were arrested and tortured. Ethnic minorities such as the Karen seethed with unrest over their exclusion from the government's policy-making (Silverstein 440). In the urban areas, student groups and Buddhist leaders continued to protest.

Together with the ethnic minorities, Burmese opposition leaders joined together to form a national coalition, called the Democratic Alliance of Burma. This coalition created a mirror democratic government to rival the SLORC. Since Suu Kyi was still under house arrest, her cousin Dr. Sein Win assumed presidency of the opposition government (Silverstein 441).

Cosmetic changes

In the mid-1990s, the military junta initiated several important political changes. In 1997, the country's military leaders dissolved the SLORC and formed a new governing body called the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC). Under the SPDC, a new cabinet was convened. However, like the SLORC, the new cabinet was composed mostly of military personnel. General Than Shwe served as both the prime minister as well as the chairperson of the SPDC. Instead of a move to a more moderate government, many observers saw this change as an attempt to emulate the authoritarian Suharto regime in Indonesia (Thadithil).

One of the most important came in 1995, when Suu Kyi was freed after six years under house arrest. However, Suu Kyi remains under constant surveillance, and is viewed by the government as a traitor both in her calls for democracy and her marriage to a British citizen. She declines invitations to speak abroad for fear of not being allowed to return to Myanmar. In many instances, even her movements around the country are restricted. When her husband was diagnosed with prostate cancer, the SPDC authorities to grant him permission to visit his wife. When he died in 1999, Aris had not seen Suu Kyi since 1995 (Pederson 27).

Many observers also point out how the media-savvy Suu Kyi used the publicity generated by her Nobel win to further her cause, and to illustrate how the SPDC is as repressive as its predecessor. In July 1998, for example, she attempted to visit NLD offices outside the capital city. When soldiers blocked her way, Suu Kyi sat in her car for six days, refusing to move. When SPDC leaders realized that she would not be starved into submission, a soldier was ordered to commandeer her car and drive her home (Pederson 27).

One month later, Suu Kyi attempted to visit party offices in Bassein. The SPDC interpreted her actions as a calculated attempt to embarrass them in the eyes of the international community. The Burmese media was banned from covering the event, though diplomatic sources later reported that her van was forcibly towed back to Yangon (Pederson 27).

With such restrictions, it soon became clear that Suu Kyi enjoyed, at best, a limited freedom. While she could receive visitors, talk to the press and converse with people who assemble around her compound, she could not travel out of the country. She was banned from attending political meetings. When she told investors to adopt a "wait and see" attitude regarding foreign investment, the military authorities charged that her comments were contrary to Buddhist principles and were therefore detrimental to the country's interests (Silverstein 443).

The illusion of Suu Kyi's freedom was lifted when she was re-arrested in 2000 for attempting to travel outside Yangon to meet with NLD workers. During this time, the SPDC junta tripled the size of its armed forces, giving Myanmar the second-largest army in Southeast Asia. By 2000, the government was spending give times more on acquiring weapons than towards health and education for its population (Kurlantzick).

Throughout the 1990s, Suu Kyi continued to head the NLD, agitating for democracy during secret planning sections and conducting covert talks around the capital. She also banked on her global support by calling for sanctions against the SPDC regime, arguing that most of the investments were pocketed by members of the SPDC. She believed that this source of funds made political change even more difficult for the NLD and its supporters (Kurlantzick).

Attempts at reconciliation

In 2000, Suu Kyi was freed once again. The SPDC announced a lifting of all restrictions on Suu Kyi's movements, stating that this release marks "the start of a new page for the people of Myanmar and the international community." More significantly, the SPDC regime promised to allow all citizens to "participate freely in the life of our political process." They further stated that the era of confrontation had now given way to the era of cooperation" (Myanmar Information Committee).

Towards this goal, the SPDC regime even agreed to conduct talks with the NLD and other pro-democracy leaders and activists. This represents a complete reversal of its previous stance of repressing critics and dissidents.

Unfortunately, dialogues were not always forthcoming. Under Suu Kyi, the NLD pursued a policy of confrontation, while the SPDC continued to maintain law and order through methods that violated human and… [END OF PREVIEW]

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