Welcome to our travel blog. We are Tabitha and Nic. In 2011 we 'retired' in our early 40s and set off to travel the world. We spent our first year in South America and have been lucky enough to make two trips to Antarctica.

Our blog is a record of our travels, thoughts and experiences. It is not a guide book, but we do include some tips and information, so we hope that you may find it useful if you are planning to visit somewhere we have been. Or you may just find it interesting as a bit of armchair travel.

Friday, March 13, 2015

Aung San Suu Kyi and democracy in Myanmar

Aung San Suu Kyi - or The Lady as she is known here, is a name that many of us have heard, but perhaps don't know much about. She is an incredibly important figure here in Myanmar, so I figured I'd give some facts about her and drop in a few lines on what is passing for Democracy.

One reason for The Lady's popularity may be attributed to who her father is. General Aung San is the hero of Burmese independence from the British.  Always anti British, his first attempt didn't go quite so well, as he decided to accept Japanese help.  The Japanese helped him to train a small group of men - the first Burmese army - and then he helped them with the Japanese invasion of Burma in 1942.

However Aung San soon grew skeptical of the Japanese, recognising that the new Burmese ruling party was nothing more than a puppet government, and seeing the terrible treatment of his people. He is quoted as saying ‘I went to Japan to save my people who were struggling like bullocks under the British. But now we are treated like dogs.' Indeed whilst most people are aware of the roughly 12,000 allied forces prisoners of war (around half of whom were British) who died building the Thailand to Burma 'Death Railway', fewer realise that somewhere between 90,000 and 150,000 local Asian workers died too, around a third of whom were Burmese.

So Aung San switched allegiance to the British for the war effort to oust the Japanese.

After the war though, he resumed his aim of Burmese independence, and following a meeting in January 1947 with Clement Attlee, he achieved a promise of independence in one year's time.  The independence was indeed granted in 1948, but Aung San never got to see it as he was assassinated by political rivals on 19 July 1947.

After a short period of home rule following independence from the British, General U Ne Win led a military coup and took control of the country in 1962, and military regime continued, officially until 2011, but most would say it still continues and we have heard accounts of corruption and cronyism being rife here, with the military and their allies owning huge government contracts and much of the wealth that there is in Myanmar.

Aung San Suu Kyi was only two at the time of her father's death, and as her mother was appointed ambassador to India in 1960, from when Aung San Suu Kyi spent most of the next three decades in the UK, the USA and India.  Whilst in the UK she met and married her British husband and they had two children.

Her political career only began after she returned to Burma in 1988 to care for her sick and dying mother.  She returned to a country where the military general Ne Win had officially resigned but still held control behind the scenes.  A superstitious man, he had the previous year decided to delete any currency notes not divisible by the lucky number nine, which had the effect of wiping out the savings of many Burmese people.  This, together with the general disatisfaction with the military rulers and harsh regime, and then the shooting of a student protester in March 1988, led to major protests. Significantly, the monks joined these protests and a major demonstration took place on what was regarded as an auspicious date of 8 August 1988 - or 8888.

On 26 August 1988, Aung San Suu Kyi made a speech calling for Democracy, which propelled her to be the face of the democracy campaign.  But the military junta had no intention of giving up power and on 18 September they responded to the demonstrations with automatic gunfire and the carting off of protesters. Human rights organisations believe that at least 3000 were killed.

Aung San Suu Kyi was placed under house arrest in 1989 with all communication prohibited.  She was told she would be permitted to leave as long as she left Myanmar permanently, which she refused to do, despite being separated from her family.  There was a free general election in 1990, which was won resoundingly by Aung San Suu Kyi, but the military government refused to cede power.  She was given the Nobel Prize for Peace in 1991.

The Lady was released in 1995, the year in which her husband died; they had only seen each other on a few occasions in the past seven years as the military refused to give him visas, hoping she would take up their offer to leave.

Her freedom was short lived.  She established a representative committee, which she declared to be the legitimate ruling party, and so was arrested again in 2000.  A further release in 2002 lasted only until 2003, when she was imprisoned again.

In 2007, monks again demonstrated against the military junta, in what has confusingly become known as the saffron revolution.  I say confusing, because whilst monks wear saffron colour robes in some countries, in Burma their robes are predominantly dark red.  The military junta cracked down violently, and many monks were killed or just disappeared.

In 2010, the military held an election which they 'won'.  I sat 'won', because both internally and internationally, there were widespread claims that the result was hugely fraudulent and therefore invalid.  Nonetheless, they retained power.

Under their new 'democratic' status, Aung San Suu Kyi was finally released again in 2010. The military junta was officially dissolved in 2011, but the military generals became the president and other chief officials, so the same people remain in control. At least now some opponents of the government have been able to take up positions in parliament, including in 2012, Aung San Suu Kyi herself.

New elections will take place at the end of this year, which are expected to result in a significant victory for The Lady and her National League for Democracy (NLD) Party.  But even then, the government have sought to ensure that The Lady will not prevail.  In 2008, they passed a new constitution which bars anyone from becoming president if their spouse or children are foreign citizens.  This may seem like a strange criterion, until you recall that Aung San Suu Kyi is the widow of a British man, and their children were born in Britain, so have British citizenship.  Convenient, yes?

This criterion can, in theory, be overcome, if the person concerned gets over 50% of the people's vote and 75% of the government vote.  The Lady is almost certain of the public vote, but the government vote is nigh on impossible, given that the ex military government control 52% of the vote, and the military control a further 25%

We did read in a local paper that there is a possibility that the clause will be amended, but there is strong opposition within the government and even if it does go through,  presidency would still require a two thirds majority vote in government, which still seems an impossibility.  At present it looks like the military led government will be around for a while yet.

This is the same military who recently decided that the rape and murder of two women in the Mu-Se area was not committed by soldiers.  Locals - and independent press - are certain that it was them, citing facts such as that it happened very close to where the military were camped, that military issue boot prints and a military belt were found with the bodies.

It is possible that a major public victory for The Lady would result in sufficient worldwide pressure to allow her to govern, but currently that seems unlikely. Whether they could circumvent the issue by appointing someone else that she trusts to be the President, and her acting as an advisor, I don't know, but I hope that something changes soon.

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