Myanmar’s military rulers have wised up since 1990. After Aung San Suu Kyi was elected in a landslide victory, the military rulers quickly discovered that Democracy threatened control over their self-interests. They promptly placed Suu Kyi under house arrest and returned to their business as usual. Prior to Suu Kyi’s release in 2010 Myanmar’s dictatorship announced its new Constitution.
Myanmar, with its promised time as the ASEAN Chair, now looks at the 2015 national elections with a sentimental eye on the past and one worried eye on the future. With political scrutiny at an all-time high, the government rule is softly moving into a nebulous conditional domain described by key government officials and military leaders as a “Disciplined Democracy.”
A new constitutional law was written recently by Myanmar’s rulers, pre-empting Suu Kyi’s release, to prohibit her from running for President. Responding to the law, Aung San Suu Kyi protested at campaign events with massive crowds, reminding some of the famous 1988 uprisings. The opposition seemed to have no way to counter the support for the one person in Myanmar capable of effectively opposing them for years on end simply by remaining in her own home.
Aung San Suu Kyi, National League for Democracy (NLD) followers and like-minded supporters recently made brisk progress, using basic principles of democratic freedom, by gathering millions of signatures to petition the government to amend the law barring her from the Presidency.
Will Myanmar’s current rulers listen to Myanmar’s citizens? Or, will they listen to the Chinese investors, IMF, and other foreign investors currently planning to convert greater Yangon and Mandalay into enormous enterprise zones?
In the past, when Suu Kyi said something, world leaders listened. Their policy reflected well on her words. But now, the situation is different. These days, Washington and other governments seem to need Thein Sein more, while Suu Kyi is becoming a mere symbol for the international community. Foreign diplomats aren’t missing meetings with the Nobel Peace Prize laureate, but their meetings are more and more appearing as courtesy calls.
The recent reforms rolled out in 2012 by a former general, President Thein Sien, was touted as amazing progress by governments, institutions and people across the globe itching to get their hands on a piece of Myanmar’s vast resources and access to its low wage manufacturing workforce.
With Suu Kyi being nudged out of the top political sphere, her influence on national and regional issues may equally vanish. As Suu Kyi ages and with no national leader remotely as popular in opposition to the military rulers, the NLD may be in danger of permanent collapse. The reality is that while Suu Kyi remains the most influential opposition leader to the current government, she is not the leader of the government. Neither is Suu Kyi just a symbolic figure.
However, until the current rulers stop imprisoning journalists, land rights activists and protestors while ignoring the near-genocidal treatment of the Royhinga people in Arakan State, as well as other ethnic people on the border regions of Myanmar, it’s doubtful that Suu Kyi will just give in and consign her supporters to sweat shops and shopping malls.
Myanmar needs solutions to solve issues of basic human rights, to end the misery and suffering of the poor, the uneducated, the hungry, the homeless, and to set free its child soldiers.