MYANMAR: Scenario: Post Suu Kyi’s Release


By C. S. Kuppuswamy

Aung San Suu Kyi was released on 13 November 2010 after her last stint of detention from May 2003.  In her own words, “no conditions have been imposed on her freedom.” She has been under house arrest for 15 of the last 21 years.  She was released exactly after 6 days of the multi party general election held in Myanmar (7th November) after two decades, which the regime backed party USDP won with 883 of the 1154 seats (or76.5%) as announced by the Union Election Commission on 17 November 2010.

All attention is diverted on to “The Lady”, her speeches and her movements which give a feeling that people have forgotten about the elections.  Perhaps the intention of the military junta was that (especially from the International media).  The military junta, in taking this calculated risk, did not perhaps expect this level of jubilation, fervour and people’s participation in welcoming her to their midst.

She has said too many things and revealed too much about her future plans in this short period.  The military junta is unlikely to change its colours and is aware that the euphoria will soon die down and that it has always the option to put her back in her “usual” place.

Her views and actions on various issues:

On Elections: “From what I have heard there are many many questions about the fairness of the election and there are many many allegations of vote rigging and so on” she said in an interview. She has however clarified that since her party did not take part she will only be compiling a report and will not make a protest.

On Military Junta: In a conciliatory approach and to put the Generals at ease she said (in an interview to the BBC) “I do not want to see the military falling.  I want to see the military rising to dignified heights of professionalism and true patriotism”.   While expressing her desire to talk to Senior General Than Shwe she said “We have got to be able to talk to each other.  I think, firstly, we have to start talking affably – real genuine talks, not just have some more tea or this or that.”  Last time she had talks with Senior General Than Shwe in 2002.

On her party (NLD): She filed an affidavit with the country’s high court on 16 November 2010 to have her party reinstated.  She has expressed the view that the present election commission is not justified in disbanding the parties registered by the election commission in 1990.

On Ethnic Groups: In her first speech after her release in front of her party headquarters she said “A second Panglong Conference addressing the concerns of the 21st century is needed for reconciliation”.  She also met with the ethnic leaders of some ethnic groups on 16 November 2010 at her party headquarters.

On the Pro-Democracy Movement: In an oblique reference to the junta, she said “Democracy is a system that allows the majority of people to guide a small group of people in power.”   While talking to her party leaders on the subject of cooperation with other parties that participated in the election, she said that she is ready to work for democracy with any party  including the Union Solidarity and Development Party, the junta’s proxy party, as long as that party shows good will towards the country.

On National Reconciliation:  “With the support of the people, I will continue to work towards national reconciliation.”  While she declined to give details as to how she plans to do it she added “We need public support to achieve this goal, so I wish to listen to the people first and work in unison with the people of Burma and the kind people all over the world.”

On Sanctions: “If people really want sanctions to be lifted, I will consider this.  This is the time Burma needs help.  We ask everyone to help us.  Western Nations, Eastern Nations, the whole world…. it all starts with dialogue.”

On Political Prisoners: In her first meeting on 16 November with diplomats after her release she said she was “already focused on the other 2,100 political prisoners” in Burma jails.  She urged the international community “to play an active and constructive role, most immediately by pressing the authorities to release the other 2,100 political prisoners”.

On India: “She paid tribute to the countries that had steadfastly supported her” and added that “she hoped that India would be more pro-active in future.”

Reaction of the Military Junta

While examining the various theories that have been put forth for the release of Aung San Suu Kyi Adam Mynott of BBC writes that the “most compelling reason behind her release is a combination of all the consequences of not letting her go: Turmoil at home, fury abroad,  further erosion of Burma’s international status and the absolute certainty that the only legacy for the ageing Gen Than Shwe would be the ‘Aung San Suu Kyi issue’.”

The military junta has perhaps succeeded in deflecting the attention of the international community from the elections to Suu Kyi’s release.  However there is bound to be some uneasy feeling with the kind of response and jubilation from the public in and around Yangon, which must have surpassed the junta’s expectations.

The Burmese media in exile has come up with some names of senior military officers made responsible to keep an eye on the activities of Suu Kyi and other opposition party leaders interacting with her.  Security personnel in plain clothes are also reportedly present in all her gatherings.  Strict censorship has been noticed on the coverage of her activities in the local media.

Perhaps in response to her initial outburst on the elections, the Union Election Commission warned political parties that complaints about the polls that cannot be proved will meet with severe punishment including imprisonment up to three years.

Critics have dubbed the release of Suu Kyi as a “PR exercise”, while some others consider it a ruse to legitimise the polls and entice the west to lift the sanctions.  It is our assessment that it is more in the realm of “testing the waters”, while keeping the option to reverse it as the situation warrants.

The military junta still considers her as a thorn in its flesh.

Reaction of the International Community

“She is a hero of mine and a source of inspiration for all who work to advance basic human rights in Burma and around the world” –US President Barack Obama

British Prime Minister David Cameron said her long detention was a “travesty” and her release “long overdue.”

“Suu Kyi’s release offers hope to the people of Burma who face uncertain times following the elections.”—Desmond Tutu, Nobel Peace Prize winner.

East Timor President Jose Ramos-Horta, another Nobel Peace prize winner, urged the United States and Europe to lift sanctions against Burma, calling them “morally not good.”

China is perhaps the only major country in the world to refrain from commenting on the release of Suu Kyi.

A press release of the Indian Ministry of External Affairs reads “The Government of India welcomes her release.  We hope that this will be the beginning of the process of reconciliation in Myanmar.  We are confident that the release of Madam Aung San Suu Kyi will contribute to efforts for a more inclusive approach to political change.”

While most of the ASEAN members welcomed the release of Aung San Suu Kyi, Vietnam, Laos and Brunei remained silent.

Consequent to her release some analysts have referred to Aung San Suu Kyi as Asia’s Nelson Mandela and hope that she would bring democracy in Myanmar, like Mandela in South Africa.  Bertil Lintner a reputed Burma watcher, in an article in the International Herald Tribune has termed this as a “skewed analogy” and that there are “fundamental differences between the transition to majority rule” in these nations.  He adds that in Burma there is neither a reform process nor a willingness by those in power to engage in any real dialogue with the opposition.


If Indonesia had taken more than a decade for transition to democracy, it will take that much time if not more in Myanmar, where the political climate is even worse.

It is too much to expect the military junta to start blinking so soon.  The junta has released her earlier also on two occasions and is prepared to face for the present all the internal furore and  noise from the international quarters.  The junta has made things as difficult as it could be for Suu Kyi.

With all her charisma, mass support and international backing, she has many impediments in her path – the heavily loaded constitution, the military dominated parliament, her own political party without a legal entity, her political base splintered because of the boycott of the elections and the large number of disparate ethnic groups who have their own agenda.

Even if a semblance of democracy is to sprout in Myanmar, the three pillars of this structure – the military, the predominantly Burman pro-democracy parties and the ethnic groups – have to come to a settlement  finally through a dialogue.  It is hoped that Suu Kyi’s release will help the process. There is no escape from thi


SAAG is the South Asia Analysis Group, a non-profit, non-commercial think tank. The objective of SAAG is to advance strategic analysis and contribute to the expansion of knowledge of Indian and International security and promote public understanding.

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