Category Archives: Elections

The Curious Case of Aung San Suu Kyi

Aung San Suu Kyi

The sweeping victory of the National League for Democracy (NLD) led by Daw Aung San Suu Kyi in 2015 heralded an era of democratic reforms and an end to military dictatorship. The Nobel Peace Prize got bestowed upon her in 1991 while she was still under house arrest and probably not even aware of the news. Overnight, she became an international icon —fought the Myanmar military governance (i.e.theTatmadaw) — forging the path ahead for liberalization and democratization. However, in the light of the recent Rohingya crisis, Myanmar has come under immense criticism from different quarters of the international community. The public shaming of Aung San Suu Kyi has been doing the rounds in social media, news dailies and leading websites whereby she has been highly condemned for keeping quiet on the atrocities meted out to millions of Rohingya refugees in the Rakhine state who are now seeking shelter in neighbouring countries of Bangladesh and India. Her long kept silence was finally broken when she claimed that Myanmar has never been soft on human rights offenders, thereby ‘without offering a hint of solace or consolation’.

A Planned Attack?

The brimming cynicism levelled against Aung San Suu Kyi has been growing far and wide to the extent of stripping her off the Nobel Peace Prize which may not be possible, in reality. However, her alma mater, the University of Oxford, has decided to withdraw an honorary title awarded to her in 1997, in the aftermath of the Rohingya crisis. Criticisms have also come in the form of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human rights expressing their disapproval over the crisis as ‘textbook example of ethnic cleansing’. Another Nobel Laureate Mr. Desmond Tutu reportedly wrote to Daw San Suu Kyi saying that “If the political price of your ascension to the highest office in Myanmar is your silence, the price is surely too steep.”

However, given this background of backlashes and censures, the global community cannot simply keep on harping at it. In fact, it also cannot negate the counternarrative offered by Daw Aung San Suu Kyi of an “iceberg of misinformation” where she has invited the international media to talk to the surviving Rohingya inhabitants and crosscheck the ground realities in the Rakhine region. Interestingly, as quoted in one of the reports by RSIS, there has been one prominent story which came out in the Myanmar social media. It was said that on August 25 2017 the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) had already planned an attack on the military posts in order to provoke the Tatmadaw military to give way to a disturbing scenario. This was ironically a day before the release of the Report by Advisory Commission of Rakhine State. If one goes by this narrative, it can be deduced that such an attack was particularly targeted to damage the public image of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and in turn, ruin her efforts towards building a peaceful and fair future for the Rakhine State. According to Ms. Kang Siew Kheng, a leading researcher at RSIS, who has aptly remarked that “for sure, no deemed past wrongs in history can justify present-day violence, but no present-day policy can bring about reconciliation until the old animosities have been addressed.”

Rakhine State of Affairs

The state of Rakhine has all along witnessed a colonial divide and rule strategy which has been reinforced by generations of politics complicated by extreme poverty and economic deprivation of its ethnic inhabitants. It is important to understand here that the victory achieved by Daw Aung San Suu Kyi in 2015 occurred amida wave of nationalism accompanied by growing sense of doubt and suspicion, especially in the case of the Rohingya minorities. The victory of democracy, paradoxically, gave a free rein to some entrenched sentiments that were previously put under harsh control of the military. Significantly, the NLD did not fair that well as it largely did in the other parts of the country. Experts believe that the electoral base of Suu Kyi regarded the Rohingyas “as a late political construct” who were mainly temporary migrant labourers residing in permeable borders. They are now being used to legitimise old claims of autonomy and independence.

The Road Ahead

The future of Rohingya Muslims is undoubtedly at stake and it is essential to understand here that this crisis is not merely an internal conflict concerning Myanmar. It certainly has a larger picture which is attached to the global scenario. At present, even though Daw Aung San Suu Kyi has failed to address the needs of the ethnic minorities, she needs all the help she can, from inside and outside Myanmar. It is time for the neighbouring countries, such as India and China and also the regional bloc ASEAN to intervene positively and engage in a coordinate course of action to bring out a longlasting solution. Isolating Myanmar or imposing economic sanctions on it is certainly not going to reap any results. As it is, the country, over the years, has been slowly struggling to achieve a definitive level of economic and political reforms. The insipid stance taken by the ASEAN on the Rakhine situation following an ASEAN Foreign Ministers meeting on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in New York was not only predictable but disappointing. The Rohingya crisis has the potential to transform itself into a global catastrophe leading to greater instability if not addressed urgently.

At the end, it would be interesting to observe Daw Aung San Suu Kyi put her skills of statecraft to test while she enforces some sort of national reconciliation amid the multitude of challenges that surround her now.

Courtesy- Swati Prabhu is a research scholar & an ardent contributor to National Dailies.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not reflect the views of the editorial team of Myanmar Matters


The European Union (EU) has congratulated Myanmar for successfully conducting democratic by-elections held on April 1, 2017. As per a statement issued by EU, they said that these by-elections are another important step towards strengthening democracy in Myanmar. It further added that according to all observers the votes were cast in a transparent and well-run process. Along with the Government of Myanmar, EU also congratulated the Union Election Commission [UEC] on successfully completing these elections and said that they will continue to support UEC in the future as well. EU has been one of the strongest supporters and sponsors of Myanmar’s democratic transition.  It is also involved in the ongoing peace process and is also providing a lot of investment in order to help with the development of Myanmar.

National League of Democracy with half of seats in Myanmar by-Election

Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi’s party National League for Democracy (NLD) has won nearly half of the seats contested in by-elections in Myanmar. This is the first vote since March 2016 elections which NLD won by 360 of the 652 MPs at the Assembly of the Union. This time the party but has bagged 9 out of 19 seats in the national and regional parliaments. The losses suffered by NLD were in more remote areas, including in ethnic minority regions. NLD enjoys a large majority in the Parliament so the outcome of the by-elections will not affect the balance of power within the parliament, where the, However, these elections do offer a chance to gauge the popularity of the administration in a country like Myanmar where nationwide public polls are not an available option. Worst defeat suffered by the party has been in the southern state of Mon, where it lost a lower house seat to its main opposition party, the military-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP).

U.S. Considering Easing Sanctions on Myanmar during Ms. Suu Kyi’s White House Visit

U.S. CONSIDERING EASING SANCTIONS ON MYANMAR DURING MS. SUU KYI’S WHITE HOUSE VISITThe U.S. Government is considering easing sanctions against Myanmar during the time of Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi’s visit which is scheduled for later this month. This will be her first visit to the United States after her party came in power. Despite democratically held elections in November last year and National League of Democracy coming in power in Myanmar, military still has a lot of power in Myanmar. Mr. Obama will decide on how much to ease the sanctions after consultations between his administration and Ms. Suu Kyi.

The sanctions were originally imposed as a result of Ms. Suu Kyi’s efforts who during her time as a jailed opposition leader was able to convince the Western countries to use them to make the Military Government make way for democracy. Now that she is in power, she is trying to get the citizens of her country to enjoy the economic benefits of a democracy while at the same time pushing the Military for further reforms.

Some of the sanctions were already eased by Mr. Obama previously which includes removal of Myanmar’s state-owned banks from the U.S. blacklist and of measures against seven key state-owned timber and mining firms. How much will Ms. Suu Kyi want U.S. to ease pressure on Myanmar’s military is yet to be seen.

History Of Burma

Early Burma

History Of BurmaThe Nation we know as Burma was first formed during the goldenage of Pagan in the 11th century. King Anawratha ascended the throne in 1044, uniting Burma under his monarchy. His belief in Buddhism lead him to begin building the temples and pagodas for which the city of Pagan (above) is renowned. Pagan became the first capital of a Burmese kingdom that included virtually all of modern Burma. The golden age of pagan reached its peak in during the reign of Anawratha’s successor,Kyanzitta (1084-1113), another devout Buddhist, under whom it aquired the name
” City of four million pagodas “.

Under Colonial Rule

Although Burma was at times divided into independent states, a series of monarchs attempted to establish their absolute rule, with varying degrees of success. Eventually, an expansionist British Government took advantage of Burma’s political instability. After three Anglo-Burmese wars over a period of 60 years, the British completed their colonization of the country in 1886, Burma was immediately annexed as a province of British India, and the British began to permeate the ancient Burmese culture with foreign elements. Burmese customs were often weakened by the imposition of British traditions.

The British also further divided the numerous ethnic minorities by favouring some groups, such as the Karen, for positions in the military and in local rural administrations. During the 1920s, the first protests by Burma’s intelligentsia and Buddhist monks were launched against British rule. By 1935, the Students Union at Rangoon University was at the forefront of what would evolve into an active and powerful movement for national independence. A young law student Aung San, executive-committee member and magazine editor for the Students Union, emerged as the potential new leader of the national movement. In the years that followed, he successfully organized a series of student strikes at the university, gaining the support of the nation.

Independence and Democracy

At the outbreak of the Second World War, Aung San seized the opportunity to bring about Burmese independence. He and 29 others, known as the Thirty Comrades, left Burma to undergo military training in Japan. In 1941, they fought alongside the Japanese who invaded Burma. The Japanese promised Aung San that if the British were defeated, they would grant Burma her freedom. When it became clear that the Japanese would not follow through with their promise, Aung San quickly negotiated an agreement with the British to help them defeat the Japanese.

History Of BurmaHailed as the architect of Burma’s new-found independence by the majority of Burmese, Aung San was able to negotiate an agreement in January 1947 with the British, under which Burma would be granted total independence from Britain. Although a controversial figure to some ethnic minorities, he also had regular meetings with ethnic leaders throughout Burma in an effort to create reconciliation and unity for all Burmese.

As the new leader drafted a constitution with his party’s ministers in July 1947, the course of Burmese history was dramatically and tragically altered. Aung San and members of his newly-formed cabinet were assasinated when an opposition group with machine guns burst into the room. A member of Aung San’s cabinet, U Nu, was delegated to fill the position suddenly left vacant by Aung San’s death. A Burma was finally granted independence on January 4, 1948, at 4:20am – a moment selected most auspicious by an astrologer.

For the next ten years, Burma’s fledging democratic government was continuously challenged by communist and ethnic groups who felt under-represented in the 1948 constitution. Periods of intense civil war destabilized the nation. Although the constitution declared that minority states could be granted some level of independence in ten years, their long-awaited day of autonomy never arrived. As the economy floundered, U Nu was removed from office in 1958 by a caretaker government led by General Ne Win, one of Aung San’s fellow thakins. In order to “restore law and order” to Burma, Ne Win took control of the whole country including the minority states, forcing them to remain under the jurisdiction of the central government. Although he allowed U Nu to be re-elected Prime Minister in 1960, two years later he staged a coup and solidified his position as Burma’s military dictator.

Burma Under a Dictatorship

History Of BurmaNe Win’s new Revolutionary Coucil suspended the constitution and instituted authoritarian military rule. Full attention turned to the military defeat of communist

and ethnic-minority rebel groups. The country was closed off from the outside world as the new despot promoted an isolation ideology based on what he called the Burmese Way to Socialism. Superstitious, xenophobic and ruthless, for the next three decades Ne Win set a thriving nation on a disatrious path of cultural, environmental and economic ruin. Outside visitors were few and restricted to Rangoon, Mandalay and a handful of other tightly controlled towns close to the central plains. Insurgency remained endemic and in many areas of Burma armed struggle became a way of life.

The People’s Demands Are Met With Bullets

In July 1988 Ne Win suddenly announced that he was preparing to leave the stage. Seeing at last a possible escape from military rule, economic decline and routine human rights abuses, thousands of people took to the streets of Rangoon.

Demonstrations broke out across the country during the so-called "Democracy Summer" that followed. But on August 8, 1988 troops began a four day massacre, firing into crowds of men, women and children gathered in Rangoon. At least 10,000 demonstrators were killed across the country.

Demonstrations broke out across the country during the so-called "Democracy Summer" that followed. But on August 8, 1988 troops began a four day massacre, firing into crowds of men, women and children gathered in Rangoon. At least 10,000 demonstrators were killed across the country.Thousands of students and democracy advocates fled to the border regions under ethnic control and forged alliances with ethnic resistance movements. Some of these groups include the National Coalition Government of the Union of Burma (NCGUB), the All Burma Student Democratic Front, the Democratic Alliance of Burma, and the longstanding National Democratic Front situated in Manerplaw (the former headquarters of the Karen National Union which fell to SLORC in January 1995). Together these groups formed the National Council of the Union of Burma, an umbrella organization representing all the groups.A Leader Emerges

It just so happened that during this time of unrest in 1988, Aung San Suu Kyi, daughter of independence hero Aung San, who had been living abroad, returned to Burma to care for her ailing mother. Her devotion kept her there and brought her into the political foray. Attempting to quell international condemnation for its violence, the military announced it would hold multi-party elections. Under the persuasion of students and others opposed to the regime, Aung San Suu Kyi and like-minded colleagues founded the National League for Democracy (NLD). Her party quickly gathered country-wide support. Just when democratic changes seemed imminent Ne Win commandeered the army from behind the scenes to take over the country in a staged “coup”.

On September 18, 1988, control of the country was handed to a 19-member State Law and Order Restoration Council (SLORC) and a vicious crackdown followed. Although committed to non-violence, Aung San Suu Kyi was placed under house arrest in July 1989 for “endangering the state” and kept there for the next six years. Desperate to improve their image and generate foreign investment, the SLORC went ahead on May 27, 1990 and held the multi-party elections they had promised. Despite the SLORC’s severe repression against members of opposition parties (Aung San Suu Kyi was kept under house arrest) and the complete lack of freedom of expression throughout the country, Suu Kyi’s NLD party swept to victory with 82% of the vote. Surprised and outraged, the SLORC refused to acknowledge the election results and has retained its repressive grip on power ever since.

Current Situation

Eventhough Daw Aung San Suu Kyi was released from house arrest in May of 2002 the military has refused to relinquish power. The generals have not engaged in any sort of dialogue. The humanitarian situation in Burma is disasterous and civil war still ravages the border areas. The effect of military rule has been a severly impoverished and underdevelopmed nation, Burma has rated as the second least developed nation on the United Nations Development Index. Peace, democracy and the most basic human rights do not exist. Millions have been forced to flee due to military rule and are scattered all over the world longing for the day when they can return to their homeland and be re-united with the families and live in peace.

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After the historic Myanmar elections which took place on November 8, 2015 Myanmar was waiting for its new President. National League for Democracy (NLD) was sure to win but who will become the next President was not clear as the most popular choice Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi was not eligible to hold that post due a stricture in Myanmar’s constitution. On 10 March 2016, Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi proposed the name of Mr. Htin Kyaw for the post of the President. He was to compete against army backed Mr. Myint Swe and another member of his own party Mr. Henry Van Thio. His spotless reputation along with Ms. Suu Kyi’s support enabled him to win the parliamentary voting process easily. In this way, Myanmar got its first civilian President in over 50 years on 30 March 2016. He replaced previous President Mr. Thein Sein who held this post for a period of five years from March 30, 2011 to March 30, 2016.

Mr. Htin Kyaw has been actively involved in Myanmar’s struggle for independence for the last many decades. However, his name was not known to many people as he mainly worked behind the scenes by supporting Ms. Suu Kyi in every way possible. Mr. Kyaw was born in Yangon, to Mr. Min Thu Wun and Ms. Kyi Kyi. His father Mr. Min Thu Wun was a respected author and poet. He did his schooling from English Methodist High School and then completed M. Econ. in statistics from Rangoon Institute of Economics. While pursuing his Master’s degree he also started working as a teacher and after his degree was completed, he joined University Computer Centre as a programmer/system analyst. He won a scholarship from Institute of Computer Science, University of London in 1971 and spent two years there furthering his studies in the field of computer science. After this he continues his studies at Asia Electronics Union, Tokyo and then attended a course at the Arthur D. Little School of Management in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

After completing his studies Mr. Kyaw returned to Myanmar and joined the Ministry of Industry 2 as a Deputy Division Chief in 1975.  He became the Deputy Director in the Foreign Economic Relations Department, Ministry of Planning and Treasury in 1980 but he resigned from his post in 1992 to join Ms. Suu Kyi’s struggle to make Myanmar a democratic country. Since then he did took some non-Government posts but alongside he was continuously fighting alongside Ms. Suu Kyi and fully supporting her mission. The 69 year old Mr. Kyaw has been a friend to Ms. Suu Kyi from childhood and is respected in NLD as a good man with unshakable integrity. Being a close friend and a trusted confidant to Ms. Suu Kyi he is certain to work harmoniously along with her and help her to make her vision for Myanmar a reality. U.S. President Mr. Barrack Obama US President Barack Obama welcomed this development and congratulated both Mr.  Htin Kyaw and Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi, He called it a historic step forward for Myanmar and also assured that Myanmar’s new Government will get complete support from the American Government.



The recent Myanmar elections that were held in November 2015 have proved to be a huge turning point in this beautiful Asian nation’s history. After a gap of over five decades, Myanmar has again got a democratically elected president in the form of Mr. Htin Kyaw. This election win is mostly being seen as Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi’s victory as she has been the one of the oldest and the most resilient advocates of democracy in Myanmar. There is no doubt about the fact that Ms. Suu Kyi has a played an extremely, and perhaps even the most important role in taking Myanmar back towards democracy. However, besides her there are numerous other leaders as well who have also fought and worked hard for this day to come. One such name among them is that of Myanmar’s new president Mr. Htin Kyaw.

It was quite clear even before the elections that no matter the outcome of the voting process and regardless of the wishes of most citizens of Myanmar, Ms. Suu Kyi will not be able to become the president. A clause in the constitution prevents any one from having a foreign spouse or children who are citizens of another country from becoming the president of Myanmar. While some claim that this clause was deliberately added to prevent Ms. Suu Kyi from becoming the president but it is still a part of the constitution and so this condition needed to be adhered to. Mr. Kyaw was the name supported and promoted by Ms. Suu Kyi for becoming the next president of Myanmar after the elections results came in favor of her party and he won the seat easily. Many people believe that despite not holding the position of Myanmar’s president herself, Ms. Suu Kyi is still going to hold and exert significant power of the government.

Mr. Htin Kyaw has been Ms. Suu Kyi’s longtime colleague and trusted aid and after the election results were announced he was quoted as saying, “Victory! This is sister Aung San Suu Kyi’s victory. Thank you.” So, it is expected that Ms. Suu Kyi will hold a considerable power over the decisions taken by the new government. This can be a very good thing for both Myanmar as a whole and its new government. As the President of the country, Mr. Kyaw has to deal with find out the most effective solutions for dealing with armed rebel groups, handling economic problems, and achieving developmental objective. The tricky part is that he has to do all this while keeping the support of and avoiding any friction with the Army which still holds a lot of control. Ms. Suu Kyi’s guidance and support will certainly help the new President in being more effective and it also might make his Presidential term run a lot smoother.


mmpicOn March 15, 2016 Myanmar got its first democratically elected president in over 50 years. As this country transitions from military rule towards becoming a full-fledged democracy, the 70-year-old Mr. Htin Kyaw, will receive the honor of becoming the next leader of Myanmar. Mr. Kyaw has been the long time close friend and trusted confidant of Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi.

Ms. Suu Kyi would have been the most natural and the first choice for becoming Myanmar’s next President but she could not contest for the seat as a clause in Myanmar’s constitution prevents her from doing so. Besides Mr. Kyaw, two other candidates who contested for becoming the next President of this country were Mr. Myint Swe and Mr. Henry Van Tio. Mr. Van Tio is also from the same party as Mr. Kyaw- The National League of Democracy while Mr. Swe was the army’s candidate.

A total of 652 ballots were cast out of which Mr. Henry Van Tio won 79 votes and Mr. Myint Swe won 213 votes. Mr. Htin Kyaw comfortably won the President seat by securing 360 votes and he will take office on April 1, 2016. Mr. Swe and Mr. Van Tio will take up the posts of the first and the second vice president respectively.