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Aung San Suu Kyi
comparison between Aung San Suu Kyi and Rosa Parks
Both Aung San Suu Kyi and Rosa Parks have become enduring and vivacious symbols of the civil rights movements in their respective countries. By refusing to give up her seat to a white person and to move to the back of the bus, Parks ignited a firestorm of race-related protests that galvanized civil rights crusades of later leaders like Martin Luther King Jr. And Malcolm X In the beginning, Parks was not a civil rights leader. She was a citizen who had decided to take a stand against the social oppression that was predominant against African-American people.
Like Parks, Suu Kyi did not start out as a leader of the Burmese people. Though she had an influential father, Suu Kyi was living in England with her family prior being involved in Burma's fight against the military regime. Upon her involvement, however, the petite, quiet woman has fought tirelessly on behalf of her home country's democratic movement. She has generated publicity for her cause and has enlisted international help against the Burmese military junta. Her efforts have even earned her the Nobel Peace Prize.
This paper examines Aung San Suu Kyi's role in the political and democratic movements in Burma. The first part of the paper examines the political climate in Burma prior to Suu Kyi's arrival. The next part then details Suu Kyi's influence, particularly with regard to her work with the National League for Democracy (NLD). The next section evaluates the results of the NLD's efforts, and looks at what remains to be done. In the conclusion, this paper recommends courses of action that could be taken by Western nations in helping the cause of democracy in Burma.
Post-liberation Burmese history
Since achieving limited autonomy from British rule in 1935, Burma has had a tumultuous history of different factions competing for political rule. The nationalist movement held sway through the 1940s. After World War II, the nationalist movement was controlled by a group called the Anti-Fascist People's Freedom League. This faction was led by Aung San, whose efforts to fight Japanese imperialism had made him into a local hero. Aung San was also the father of Aung San Suu Kyi.
In 1947, Aung San had persuaded England to recognize Burmese independence. In the 1948 election, Aung San's Anti-Fascist People's Freedom League won majority of the seats for the constitutional convention. However, Aung San and six cabinet colleagues were assassinated by political rivals (Thadithil).
By 1948, independent Burma was under the leadership of U. Nu. However, the new democratic government could not address country's disparate problems, from the rebellious Karen minority to the inflation and corruption that resulted in instability.
In 1962, a military faction headed by General Ne Win took advantage of the instability and staged a coup. The new military government instituted a "Burmese Way to Socialism," a system of government that closed itself off to foreigners and did not tolerate any form of domestic dissent. The military government silenced many of its critics, the bulk of whom were Buddhist monks and pro-democracy students. The new government also instituted a state-controlled economy (Kurlantzick).
Since then, Burma has always been under military rule. The repressive practices have fueled protest from a wide swath of Burmese society. In 1988, a protest between students and a teashop owner escalated into riots lasting over several months. As a result, the military government was overthrown by yet another military faction.
This new government instituted important changes. First, it changed the country's name to Myanmar, a change that has not been adopted by other countries. It abandoned the state socialism in favor of a free market economy. The government was controlled by the official State Law and Order Restoration Council (SLORC), which was in charge of the country's political and military affairs upon the arrival of Aung San Suu Kyi back to her home country in 1988.
Aung San Suu Kyi
To her detractors, Suu Kyi is a troublemaker and a destabilizer, whose Burmese identity is called into question by her marriage to an Englishman and her two "tainted" mixed-race children (Straub).
However, her supporters believe otherwise. By virtue of birth alone, Suu Kyi's Burmese heritage runs deep. After all, she is the only daughter of Aung San, a staunch fighter against colonialism in Burma and one of the country's most beloved national heroes.
Aung San was born and spent her early years in Burma in 1945, before moving to India where her mother was appointed ambassador. She then attended Oxford University's St. Hugh's College, where she studied politics, economics and history. In 1972, she married Oxford scholar Michael Vaillancourt Aris, with whom she has two sons. Throughout the 1980s, Suu Kyi continued her scholastic career, working as a visiting scholar in institutions like Kyoto University's Center for Southeast Asian Studies and the Indian Institute for Advanced Studies in Simla (Pederson 26).
In 1988, Suu Kyi returned to Rangoon, Burma to nurse her ailing mother. She was thus a witness to the massive protests that shook the country during that year, as well as the SLORC regime's brutal and bloody repression of these demonstrations. In later interviews, Suu Kyi would recall how she had always steered clear of political activism, especially among the Burmese exiles in England. However, she states that the 1988 events changed her view, since "this is not a time when anyone who cares can stay out" (Straub).
Burma in 1988
The cause for democracy in Burma was shattered in 1962, with New Win's coup. It was during this regime that the government instituted isolationist policies that focused inward and fostered antagonism towards anything foreign. This suspicion towards foreigners and foreign ideas such as democracy continues to dominate the Burmese military government today (Kurlantzick).
The Burmese way to socialism, the Ne Win government's strategy, had resulted in a bankrupt economy and widespread discontent. The country's black market had grown enormous and was doing more business than the state-run economy. By 1987, the United Nations classified as one of the world's least-developed nations (Kurlantzick).
To address this problem, Ne Win declared all of Burma's high-denomination bank notes as worthless, as a form of "shock therapy" for the country's economy. Instead, this action triggered widespread revolt. Various groups protested in the streets, demanding political liberalization, an end to the state-run economy and a market-style economy. These protests grew more frequent and more violent (Kurlantzick).
The first protesters were mostly student activists, who took to the streets to agitate for radical political reform. In March 1988, Ne Win's troops arrested and locked students in an airtight police van. As a result, 41 wounded students suffocated to death (Clements).
On July 23, 1988, Ne Win surprised Burmese citizens by announcing his resignation and calling for a national referendum regarding the country's political future. However, any hopes for a peaceful transition to democracy were dashed, as the ruling Burma Socialist Program Party opposed Ne Win's pronouncement. This set off another series of protests, which the ruling party met with violence. Between September 18 and September 21, the army killed thousands of students, monks and other civilians to quell the burgeoning rebellion (Thadithil)
In an event later known as the "Massacre of 8-88," infantry troops were dispatched to a protest with orders to kill. Survivors later recalled kneeling in front of the solders, calling them brothers and exhorting them to join the fight for freedom. The troops fired into the protesters, killing an estimated 3,000 people. Thousands more were imprisoned. Witnesses to the Burmese bloodbath likened it to Tiananmen Square in China (Clements).
It was during this time of intense turmoil when Suu Kyi stepped into Burma's political arena. On August 26, 1988, Aung San Suu Kyi spoke before an estimated 500,000 people and announced her decision to join Burma's movement for democracy and to agitate for a parliamentary system. For Suu Kyi, the decision was political as well as personal, explaining, "I could not, as my father's daughter, remain indifferent to all that was going on" (Clements).
In the aftermath of Ne Win's resignation and the SLORC repressions, the military formed the SLORC. Under the leadership of the General San Yu, the government of the renamed Myanmar abandoned Burmese socialism. To pump much-needed investment into the ravaged economy, the San Yu government instituted a free market economy (Thadithil).
However, the SLORC also reinstated martial law. During this time, the military junta imposed a curfew, replaced civil courts with military tribunals and prohibited any public gathering of more than four people. Those who flouted these rules were rounded up and imprisoned (Myoe).
To appease critics like Suu Kyi, the SLORC dangled the promise of "free and fair multiparty elections" slated for the spring of 1990. As a result, over 200 parties registered with the SLORC's election committee. The most popular party by far was the National League for Democracy, which was co-founded by the charismatic Aung San Suu Kyi and several…[continue]
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