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Will Suu Kyi Be Soon Free? And What Then?

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COMMENTARY

Will Suu Kyi Be Soon Free? And What Then?

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Persistent rumors have been circulating since late last year predicting that Burma’s opposition leader and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi will be released soon from house arrest.

Several Western governments and international campaign groups accuse the Burmese regime of detaining her illegally and have been stepping up their demands for her release.

Suu Kyi meets Than Shwe at the army guest house in Rangoon (undated photo)

Some diplomats in Rangoon and Bangkok even suggest that Suu Kyi will be released in May this year, the sixth anniversary of her current term of house arrest. Some analysts maintain, however, that the regime will benefit nothing from releasing her at this point in time, but say she could be freed after the 2010 election.

Suu Kyi is being held under the terms of Burma’s State Protection Act of 1975, which provides for the detention for up to five years of persons judged to pose a threat to the sovereignty and security of the State and the peace of the people. Under the provisions of the Act, Suu Kyi should have been released in May 2008, and the Burmese regime is being accused of transgressing its own laws by continuing to detain her.

UN Special Human Rights envoy Tomas Ojea Quintana raised her case with government officials when he visited Burma this month. He was told by the country’s Chief Justice that since the detention was an administrative order, the legal case had not been sent to the Supreme Court.

Government officials also said that Suu Kyi had been placed in “quasi-judicial” detention. But even experts in international law are asking what this means.

Since there is no rule of law in Burma, it would be naïve to expect the regime to honor existing laws it doesn’t respect, let alone hope the junta will bow to demands for Suu Kyi’s release.

Nevertheless, important questions are raised by the rumors that she could indeed be freed soon.

A dinner meeting between the regime leaders and NLD leaders in Rangoon (undated photo)

Question: What will happen if  Suu Kyi is freed in May this year?

Answer: The Burmese people will be very happy and the regime will try to win kudos and much needed recognition by its most vocal critics, particularly the US and the international community.

It’s probably wishful thinking to suggest that her release in May could show that Snr-Gen Than Shwe wants to include her in the “road map” process and may want her National League for Democracy (NLD) to participate.

If she is freed after the 2010 election it will be because the current regime wants to hand the matter over to a new government. Why should Than Shwe want her and the NLD to contest the election anyway? This is Than Shwe’s election, and it’s likely to be rigged in his favor.

It is possible that after her release she will continue to ask for the release of all political prisoners, including women and Buddhist monks.

The hard fact must be faced that even after her release, Suu Kyi could be rearrested and placed under house detention for a further six years.

In a worst case scenario, Suu Kyi could risk the same kind of physical attack that preceded her detention in 2003, when pro-regime mobs set upon her convoy of supporters in Depayin. That fear has prompted some analysts and diplomats to suggest that if she is freed she should be confined to the city limits of Rangoon.

Q: Some Burma watchers suggest that she should be suspended from the NLD. They say she should be a figurehead and invest her energy on reconciliation with the regime on a national level.

A: The statement by Suu Kyi released through UN Special Envoy Ibrahim Gambari in November 2007 provides the best answer to that question.

She said: “In full awareness of the essential role of political parties in democratic societies, in deep appreciation of the sacrifices of the members of my party and in my position as General Secretary, I will be guided by the policies and wishes of the National League for Democracy. However, in this time of vital need for democratic solidarity and national unity, it is my duty to give constant and serious considerations to the interests and opinions of as broad a range of political organizations and forces as possible, in particular those of our ethnic nationality races.”

Any suggestion that Suu Kyi should divorce herself even temporarily from the NLD is vehemently opposed on a national scale. She has, however, indicated that she may give serious consideration to any thoughtful and constructive proposal to achieve national reconciliation and democracy in Burma. Without Suu Kyi, the NLD would be inactive. They both need each other.

Q: What is her stance on the 2010 election?

A: If NLD statements on the election issue reflect Suu Kyi’s thinking (although who knows what she is thinking?), she will not agree with the military-sponsored constitution. However, the NLD has called for a constitutional review, indicating the party’s flexibility.

Q: What about sanctions? Could she have a moderating influence on Western sanctions policies?

A: For an answer to that question, read the NLD’s special statement issued in February. The NLD said Suu Kyi had informed the authorities through the mediator Aung Kyi that she is ready to cooperate to avoid the “confrontation, utter devastation, economic sanctions and embargo” which the regime accuses her of supporting.

Suu Kyi inspects state-sponsored project in 2002

“Therefore, it is declared once again that the NLD requests with sincere intention that the two leaders who can make decisions regarding these matters, shall unavoidably and practically hold dialogue immediately,” the party statement said.

Suu Kyi and Aung Kyi, the government’s minister for liaison, discussed the sanctions issue during their meetings. There was a suggestion that a joint statement on sanctions could be issued by Suu Kyi and the regime leaders. Than Shwe, some sources said, opposed the idea.

Deep seated mistrust remains on both sides, and some say that a confidence building process may need to be restarted soon at the highest level. But frankly, we’re not suggesting here that the UN and its clueless special envoys jump in to spin and sell “confidence building” projects.

Q: Should Suu Kyi leave Burma?

A: The regime would be more than happy to provide Suu Kyi with a ticket out of the country—a one-way ticket, though.

She would be very popular within the international community. But she is no Dalai Lama.

How long will her popularity last? Regime apologists, sympathizers and governments that support the regime will belittle Suu Kyi and try to sabotage whatever efforts she undertakes. She might not be able to return to Asia, perhaps not even to Japan, but her popularity in the West is assured.

Apologists, policy makers and some scholars who sympathize with the regime are convinced that Suu Kyi is part of the problem. This propaganda has been circulating for some time.

So our conclusion is that Suu Kyi should stay in Burma and work from within.

Q: Would Suu Kyi be as popular as ever with the Burmese public?

A: Like her father Gen Aung San, the Nobel Peace Prize winner remains a beacon of hope. She will be respected and the opposition and democracy movement will be energized and revitalized if she is freed. This is why she is so feared by the regime and why she remains under house arrest.

Q: What should Suu Kyi say if she is freed?

A: Some observers say that she and the regime leaders should inject a tone of pragmatism. They suggest that aside from calling for dialogue and democracy, she should talk about the economy, the country’s humanitarian crisis and poverty and her policy and thoughts on sanctions.

Suu Kyi inspects government dam project in 2002

She should again show that she is ready to turn a new page. She should show that her readiness for compromise remains unchanged and prove herself to be a pragmatic politician.She could reactive the NLD and its supporters nationwide. She should first of all sit down with all the party “uncles,” senior and youth leaders and discuss reform of the party and how to inject new doses of energy and dynamism into the NLD.

She should also speak carefully to those rank and file soldiers and officers who are fed up with the regime and want to see change.
They will see in her their hope for change.

But she should be cautiously aware of the smear campaigns against her within the armed forces. Many officers may view her negatively, and she needs to win them over with tact.

Q: The NLD welcomed Ban Ki-moon’s intention to visit Burma soon, but the regime is silent about the plan. Why is that?

A: Than Shwe doesn’t want to make big concession to the UN. But he may decide to release Suu Kyi soon. If the UN chief is allowed to enter Burma, he should do his homework and be prepared to come out of Burma with some substantial package in his basket. Otherwise, he and his mission will be ridiculed.

Q: Who should Suu Kyi look to outside Burma?

A: She should be prepared to articulate some practical policy on China and India, who are the regime’s chief supporters. Washington will always be behind her, but she must make sure that China and India are on board. It shouldn’t be ignored that the Chinese are pragmatic and are fed up with the Than Shwe regime.

Thus, Suu Kyi must not antagonize Burma’s powerful neighbors or Asean, whose policy is based on pragmatism and economic prosperity. Asean leaders are unpredictable, so Suu Kyi’s message to them has more importance than any she delivers to the West.

It should be kept in mind that some Asean leaders are unhappy with the regime and want to see Suu Kyi as an alternative. Suu Kyi therefore needs to demonstrate that she is relevant and a force to be reckoned with.


Text of Aung San Suu Kyi’s statement released by U.N. envoy

November 08, 2007

Following is the text of the statement by Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, released Thursday by U.N. envoy Ibrahim Gambari.

I wish to thank all those who have stood by my side all this time, both inside and outside my country. I am also grateful to the Secretary-General of the United Nations, Mr. Ban Ki-moon, for his unwavering support for the cause of national reconciliation, democracy and human rights in my country.

I welcome the appointment on 8 October of Minister Aung Kyi as Minister for Relations. Our first meeting on 25 October was constructive and I look forward to further regular discussions. I expect that this phase of preliminary consultations will conclude soon so that a meaningful and timebound dialogue with the SPDC leadership can start as early as possible.

In the interest of the nation, I stand ready to cooperate with the Government in order to make this process of dialogue a success and welcome the necessary good offices role of the United Nations to help facilitate our efforts in this regard.

In full awareness of the essential role of political parties in democratic societies, in deep appreciation of the sacrifices of the members of my party and in my position as General Secretary, I will be guided by the policies and wishes of the National League for Democracy.

However, in this time of vital need for democratic solidarity and national unity, it is my duty to give constant and serious considerations to the interests and opinions of as broad a range of political organizations and forces as possible, in particular those of our ethnic nationality races.

To that end, I am committed to pursue the path of dialogue constructively and invite the Government and all relevant parties to join me in this spirit.

I believe that stability, prosperity and democracy for my country, living at peace with itself and with full respect for human rights, offers the best prospect for my country to fully contribute to the development and stability of the region in close partnership with its neighbors and fellow ASEAN members, and to play a positive role as a respected member of the international community.

Copyright © 2008 Irrawaddy Publishing Group | http://www.irrawaddy.org

http://www.irrawaddy.org/opinion_story.php?art_id=15364

Note- This post is intended for those who cannot visit Irrawaddy website  from inside Burma.

Written by Lwin Aung Soe

March 25, 2009 at 11:53 am

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