Aung San Suu Kyi: Blazing through another election

Why is Suu Kyi’s level Blazing?

Answer: She has won the second set of consecutive elections. 

On November 8th of 2020, Myanmar held its breath and watched as Aung San Suu Kyi blazed through the second set of properly contested elections that the country has held in decades. With an estimated voter turnout of 70%, these elections were made up of more than 5,000 candidates from 87 different parties. But regardless of this variety of contestants, the elections resulted in a steamy victory for Suu Kyi and her party, the National League for Democracy (NLD), who secured 396 out of the 476 contested bicameral seats. This result is a surprising improvement from the 2015 elections, after which she was named State Counselor. 

Through the ballot count, one would deduct that she barely faced any contestation. The biggest opposition party, the Union and Solidarity Development Party –which represents the military junta- only won 24 of the elected seats. However, her scorching victory has not been achieved by mere political and social achievements, but by systematic restrictions. 

In the Burmese elections, the population must vote to compose its 664-seat bicameral Union Parliament, which is divided into the 224-seat Amyotha Hluttaw (upper house) and the 440-seat Pyithu Hluttaw (lower house). However, the 2008 constitution commands that 25% of these seats be hand-picked by the military, which automatically prevents more than 160 MPs from being elected democratically. 

Moreover, Suu Kyi’s government ensured a further 22-seat reduction by cancelling the elections in the Shan and Rakhine states. This was decided upon by the Union Election Commission, -a body not independent from NLD- who argued that these areas were too volatile to undergo elections due to the current armed conflict. Similarly, the Rohingya people remain unable to vote due to Suu’s reluctance to grant them citizenship status. Consequently, more than 1.5 million people out of the 37 million electoral body have been systematically excluded from voting. 

Additionally, throughout the election campaign there has been active oppression against opposition parties, and the government has even shut down some of their websites on the grounds of fake news. Months before the election there was also a failed attempt by the Union Election Commission to expel PACE -the largest election monitor in Myanmar- because it received foreign funding.

Overall, these elections have been a hot success for Suu Kyi, who even though maintains substantial support from the Burma majority ethnicity, is willing to go above and beyond to suppress all possible threats. 

What is changing Suu Kyi’s temperature?

-Answer: It was expected that she would be weakened by these elections. 

When the NLD won the 2015 elections, they did so with evident support from minority parties that had been cajoled by Suu’s promises. She did burst into the political picture of Myanmar with the democratization of her country as the main priority. Nonetheless, given the more than 130 ethnic groups that coexist in Myanmar, she also promised an end to the ethnic armed conflict that has ravaged the country for years, and assured most minorities that they would obtain the levels of autonomy and respect they demanded. 

Not only did she not live up to those promises once she was elected, but in 2019 she shocked the world by traveling to The Hague to defend the military’s brutal actions against one of these minorities; the Rohingya people. In this instance, many of her supporters realized that she was allying with those people she had promised to fight against, and that she was not the same inspiring activist who had won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991.

Therefore, it was highly expected that her political grip would be frozen as she would lose the support of all those minority parties that had once looked up to her. Additionally, after the sudden growth in coronavirus cases exposed the absence of efficient leadership and the flimsiness of the healthcare system, it was also highly expected that Suu would face further opposition. But these pessimistic speculations have actually been surging for quite some time. 

Throughout the past 5 years of governance, Suu has not tried to cover up her rising authoritarianism. Besides visibly and publicly defending acts of genocide, she has locked up hundreds of human rights activists and journalists, and has perpetually persecuted the opposition the same way that the military regime did with her and her colleagues decades ago. She has also promoted Buddhist-nationalism through the establishment of the Ministry of Religious Affairs and Culture, and by passing controversial legislation like the 2015 “Protection of Race and Religious Bills”. 

Similarly, her ambiguous economic policies have barely improved the economic crisis caused by the remnants of the “Burmese Way to Socialism”, and it actually threatens to reemerge as a consequence of the global pandemic. Moreover, even though Myanmar is one of the largest biodiversity hubs of the world -and regardless of the country’s high susceptibility to climate change- she has ignored pleas for environmental-reforms. 

Overall, a few months prior to the election there was a general consensus that Suu Kyi would come out dangerously weakened. Instead, she flared up this year’s election, and it is to be seen what other provocative surprises she has got in store for the world and for her country. 

What is driving Suu Kyi?

-Answer: Her troubled past and heavy family legacy.

To fully understand Suu Kyi’s commitment to her political role, it is essential to understand her life story.  She was brought up as the daughter of a national martyr, an army general that led the country to independence and who was murdered for these ideals when Suu was two. From early on, Suu Kyi left Myanmar to live in India with her mother –the first Burmese female diplomat-, and to graduate from college in the UK.

In Great Britain, she met her future husband, for whom she temporarily gave up her career in order to start a family and travel the world. Unfortunately, in 1988 she had to return to Myanmar to take care of her sick mother. Little did she know that this trip would change her and her country’s future.

As she landed in Myanmar that year, she witnessed the general discontent of a population brutally oppressed by a decades-long military regime. She slowly began to make her voice heard in support for the people and in support for the democratization and liberalization of Myanmar. And so, as General Ne Win resigned, all eyes turned on the promise child of a national hero. Unfortunately, the moment that Suu Kyi became actively involved in the country’s politics by creating the NLD, she became the main target of the military regime. 

From 1989 to 2003 she was intermittently placed on house arrest or restrained within the Yangon province without even being able to see her family. During this time, she watched as the military junta discarded the 1990 elections -in which her party won by a +90% majority- and as her husband died from cancer in the UK. And a few months after she was allowed to walk out, she suffered an assassination attempt and was again placed on house arrest until 2010. 

It wasn’t until 2015 that Suu and her party were finally awarded with elections. Nonetheless, the military regime had ensured that she would not govern under normal circumstances due to the blockades they established through the 2008 constitution. For instance, she holds the title of State Counselor because –according to the constitution- she isn’t legally allowed to become president due to the foreign nationality of her children and husband. 

It is undeniable that Suu Kyi sacrificed most of her life in order to remain true to her cause. It was because of her perpetual conviction that she was awarded with the Nobel Peace Prize and with fervent international support. But she was also rewarded with the unconditional sustenance of a vast national majority who “considered her a female bodhisattva, an angel, a divine being” and who still remain loyal to her. 

In reality, her current mode of repressive governance is a response to a lifetime of personal sacrifices and repression. She is simply living up to her father’s legacy and her people’s expectations.

What does it mean for you?

-Answer: We trusted her, but we were awfully disappointed.

Suu’s blazing transformation is yet another example of how western support for foreign leaders can be utterly mistaken. The international community has seen how she converted from a symbol for democracy and from an individual compared to that of Nelson Mandela or Mahatma Gandhi, to a repressive leader who can’t stand the idea of losing power. 

Unfortunately, her transformation isn’t a mere story, but a tragic reality for minorities that suffer the consequences of her power. This is especially the case for the Rohingya people, who have been denominated the most persecuted minority in the world by the UN and who have been forced to flee their own country by the thousands. Moreover, Suu Kyi’s dependence on her faith gives leeway for a majority population educated under the values of Buddhist-nationalism reminiscent of the military regime. 

Many of her supporters argue that Suu’s behaviour is solely based on the perpetual fear of possible reprisal by the military junta, which still holds considerable power in the country. Besides controlling 25% of parliamentary seats, the military also controls the National Defense and Security Council, who can at any point declare the state of emergency and take absolute control over the legislative, executive and judiciary powers. However, her victimization does nothing to strive for positive change and rather justifies her immorality and repressiveness. 

These elections are a reminder of how democratic values can be distorted, and how the decision of a majority can cause the perpetual persecution, assassination and torture of minorities that aren’t even been given a voice.