Like a phoenix from the ashes, Aung San Suu Kyi, also known as “The Lady,” has risen.
It was five years to the day of her release from a fifteen-year house arrest that Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) overwhelmingly won national elections in Myanmar (also known as Burma) this month. I think we are all holding our breaths to see how this transition will take place. The last time the NLD won in a landslide in 1990, the government declared that it didn’t really count and went on with business as usual (corruption, cronyism, censorship, etc.). But assuming times have changed, what will The Lady and her party have to deal with? How will they move forward with new and inherited barriers? Will she be the leader the people need?
Who is this Lady and why are these elections a big deal?
Once a British colony, Myanmar gained independence through the efforts of many, including Aung San Suu Kyi’s father, Aung San. But peace and democracy did not conquer. Aung San was assassinated and things began to deteriorate. By the time Aung San Suu Kyi returned as an adult from living and studying abroad a military coup had taken place, the people of Myanmar faced famine, the drug trade was rampant, and repression of and fighting among ethnic groups had become commonplace.
Students, monks, textile workers, and many more citizens held strikes, protests, and other peaceful pleas for democracy, only to be gunned down by police and military. The 8.8.88 and later protests became massacres, leaving thousands dead and were the final push for Aung San Suu Kyi. She knew the time had come when she would devote her life for her people. Leading a political party and speaking out against the government, The Lady was followed, spied on, threatened, and finally placed under house arrest. During this time she suffered more threats on her life and the lives of those she cared about, a self-imposed hunger strike, separation from her children, and missing her husband’s last days alive. But she was also awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, led her party to political victories (later wiped out by the military), and became an inspiration to countless people around the world.
What will the future hold?
Though an exciting breakthrough in a country that was once one of the richest in Southeast Asia then one of the poorest and most corrupt, questions hang in the air.
Firstly, the constitution states that twenty-five percent of parliament seats automatically go to the military. Past tensions with minority groups could resurface. The people known as Rohingya, an ethnic Muslim group, have been denied the right to citizenship and to vote even though they have lived in the country for generations. In addition, the country has recently had a surge of hardline policies that make life difficult for non-Buddhists.
Aung San Suu Kyi’s amazing lifetime, beginning as the daughter of a national hero, then being trapped in her own home while her beloved country descended into chaos, and finally emerging on top is an inspiration all on its own. Though barred from running for president because her children hold British passports, The Lady remains the symbol and driving influence of the dream of a democratic Myanmar. Let’s hope that she and those that follow her can make it happen.