Why we all should support Aung San Suu Kyi: Part 3

2 February 2022
Aung San Suu Kyi at 8888 Uprising

Aung San Suu Kyi addressing the 8888 Uprising / DVB TV News

Pause for a moment with me and just imagine: One day, you’re at your ailing mother’s bedside; 24 hours later, you’re thrust with the burden of noblesse oblige as the daughter of the man who freed your country from colonial oppression, and you find yourself flagbearer for a nascent revolution against the very forces that your father created when he and his comrades sipped their shared blood from a silver chalice 47 years earlier.

Pardon my lapse of language at this point, but I consider this a mindf*ck of note.

Anyway, on with our story:

When we left our reluctant hero yesterday, it was 28 August 1988 as she stood on the steps of the iconic Shwedagon Pagoda before a crowd of 500 000 people and called for democracy in Burma. Let me quote from what she said:

 “A number of people are saying that since I have spent most of my time abroad and am married to a foreigner I could not be familiar with the ramifications of this country’s politics... 

“It is true that I have lived abroad. It is also true that I am married to a foreigner. These facts have never interfered and will never interfere with or lessen my love and devotion for my country by any measure or degree.

“Another thing which some people have been saying is that I know nothing of Burmese politics.

“The trouble is that I know too much. My family knows best how complicated and tricky Burmese politics can be and how much my father had to suffer on this account. He expended much mental and physical effort in the cause of Burma’s politics without personal gain. That is why my father said that once Burma’s independence was gained he would not want to take part in the kind of power politics that would follow.

“Since my father had no such desire I too have always wanted to place myself at a distance from this kind of politics. Because of that I have kept away from politics. 

“Some might then ask why, if I wished to stay out of politics, should I now be involved in this movement. The answer is that the present crisis is the concern of the entire nation. I could not as my father’s daughter remain indifferent to all that was going on. This national crisis could in fact be called the second struggle for national independence.

“This great struggle has arisen from the intense and deep desire of the people for a fully democratic parliamentary system of government. I would like to read to you something my father said about democracy:

We must make democracy tie popular creed. We must try to build up a free Burma in accordance with such a creed. If we should fail to do this, our people are bound to suffer. If democracy should fail the world cannot stand back and just look on, and therefore Burma would one day, like Japan and Germany, be despised. Democracy is the only ideology which is consistent with freedom. It is also an ideology that promotes and strengthens peace. It is therefore the only ideology we should aim for.

“The present armed forces of Burma were created and nurtured by my father…. There are papers written in my father’s own hand where he lays out in detail how the army should be organized and built up. So what objectives did my father have for the armed forces? Let me read to you one of them:

“T he armed forces are meant for this nation and this people, and it should be such a force having the honour and respect of the people. If instead the armed forces should come to be hated by the people, then the aims with which this army has been built up would have been in vain…

“May I appeal to the armed forces to become a force in which the people can place their trust and reliance. May the armed forces become one which will uphold the honour and dignity of our country.”

Her appeal to the army was in vain.  

On 18 September 1988, General Saw Maung repealed the 1974 constitution and imposed martial law. Troops went through cities throughout Burma, indiscriminately firing on protestors.

I have not been able to find an exact body count. What was significant was that around 500 were killed protesting outside the United States embassy, and a cameraman captured footage of that scene which was picked up by world media.

Aung San Suu Kyi appealed to the world for help: "I would like every country in the world to recognize the fact that the people of Burma are being shot down for no reason at all."

Saw Maung described the dead as "looters".

Let me fast forward through the aftermath of the 1888 Uprising:

  • 27 September 1888 — Aung San Suu Kyi founded a new political party, the National League for Democracy.
  • 27 December 1988: Aung San Suu Kyi’s mother, Khin Kyi, died, age 76.
  • 2 January 1989:Khin Kyi was buried at Kandawmin Garden Mausolea in Rangoon. More than 200 000 people attended her funeral even though military trucks intervened to try to prevent the gathering.
  • 31 May 1989 : The military government announced plans for People's Assembly elections
  • 18 June 1989 The military governmen changed the country's official English name from the "Socialist Republic of the Union of Burma" to the "Union of Myanmar".
  • 20 July 1989: Aung San Suu Kyi was placed under house arrest without trial. She was offered freedom if she left the country permanently. She refused. This was the start of a total of 15 years house arrest over the next 21 years.
  • 27 May 1990: The military rulers hold the first multiparty general elections in 30 years to elect a constitutional committee to draft a new constitution. The National League for Democracy scored a landslide victory, winning 392 of the 492 seats with a 72,6% turnout. The military refused to accept the results. Aung San Suu Kyi continued to be held under house arrest.
  • 1990: Aung San Suu Kyi was awarded the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought . (My country's first democratically elected president Nelson Mandela was a previous recipient of the same award.)
  •  14 October 1991: Aung San Suu Kyi was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.  Her sons Alexander and Kim accepted the Nobel Peace Prize on her behalf. Aung San Suu Kyi used the Nobel Peace Prize's US$1.3 million prize money to establish a health and education trust for the Burmese people.
  • 10 July 1995: Aung San Suu Kyi was released after six years of house arrest.
  • 4-15 September 1995: Aung San Suu Kyi delivered the keynote address at the Fourth World Conference on Women  in Beijing, China.
  • 10 October 1995: The National League for Democracy defied a military government ban on changes of party leadership and appoints her General Secretary of the party. 
  • 9 November 1996: Aung San Suu Kyi's motorcade was attacked by a mob of nearly 200 men, believed to be members of the pro-military Union Solidarity and Development Association. They smashed the car windows with iron bars and threw stones at the car in full view of the security forces who did not stop the attack.
  • 1997: Michael Arris, husband of Aung San Suu Kyi, was diagnosed with terminal prostate cancer. The military junta refused him a visa to enter the country to visit his wife despite appeals from the United States government, United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan and Pope John Paul II.
  • 27 March 1999: Michael Arris died of cancer on his 53rd birthday in Oxford, UK. After 1989, when his wife was first placed under house arrest, and until his death in 1999, he had seen her only five times, the last of which was for Christmas in 1995, when Aung San Suu Kyi was released for the first time
  • 15 September 2000 Aung San Suu Kyi declared that she would travel outside of Rangoon defying the military government. 
  • 23 September 2000 Aung San Suu Kyi is again placed under house arrest. 
  • 6 May 2002: Aung San Suu Kyi is released from house arrest. A government spokesman promises to allow all citizens to participate in political processes.
  • 30 May 2003: A pro government mob attacks her motorcade, killing at least four of her bodyguards. Aung San Suu Kyi fled the scene with her driver but was arrested shortly after and imprisoned in secret detention at Rangoon's Insein jail for three months before once again being placed under house arrest. 
  • September 2003: Undergoes a hysterectomy at Asia Royal Hospital and returns to house arrest.
  • 25 May 2007: Her house arrest was formally extended by one year despite a direct appeal from U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan.
  • 24 October 2007: On the 12th anniversary of her house arrest, solidarity protests are held around the world.
  • 24 May 2008: Government amends the constitution with a clause that says a presidential candidate "shall he himself [sic], one of the parents, the spouse, one of the legitimate children or their spouses not owe allegiance to a foreign power, not be subject of a foreign power or citizen of a foreign country. They shall not be persons entitled to enjoy the rights and privileges of a subject of a foreign government or citizen of a foreign country." Given that Aung San Suu Kyi's two sons are both citizens of the United Kingdom, it's clear that this clause is written to prevent her becoming president.
  • 27 May 2008: House arrest extended for a further year even though law does not provide for this.
  • 4 May 2009: Two weeks before her scheduled release from house arrest on 27 May, an American citizen John Yettaw swam across the lake next to Aung San Suu Kyi's home trespassing on her property. He was arrested on 6 May and charged on 14 May with illegally entering a restricted zone, illegal swimming and breaking immigration laws. 
  • 13 May 2009: Aung San Suu Kyi herself was arrested because it is illegal in Burma to have a guest stay overnight at one's home without first notifying the authorities.
  • 11 August 2009: Yettaw was sentenced on three counts totalling seven years, including four hard labour. Suu Kyi was sentenced to eighteen months of house arrest.
  • 14 August 2009: US Senator Jim Webb arrived in Burma and successfully negotiated Yettaw's release and 16 August deportation.
  • 7 November 2010: A general election was held which Aung San Suu Kyi could not contest because of her house arrest.
  • 13 November 2010: Released from house arrest. Her son Kim Arris was granted a visa to visit and see his mother for the first time in 10 years. 
  • October 2011: Following discussions between Aung San Suu Kyi and the military government, a number of political prisoners were freed in an amnesty and trade unions were legalized.
  • November 2011: The National League for Democracy declares it will contest 48 by-elections. Aung San Suu Kyi holds a tele-conference with US President Barack Obama.
  • 1 December 2011: US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton met with Aung San Suu Kyi — the first such visit in 50 years. 
  • 18 January 2012, Aung San Suu Kyi formally registered to contest one of the by-election seats in the Kawhmu Township constituency
  • 1 April 2012: The National League for Democracy wins 43 out of 45 contested seats in by-elections. Aung San Suu Kyi officially becomes leader of the opposition in the lower house of parliament.
  • 16 June 2012: Aung San Suu Kyi delivers her Nobel Prize acceptance speech 20 years after receiving it.
  • 12 September 2012: Aung San Suu Kyi meets US President Barack Obama at the White House.
  • 8 November 2015: The National League for Democracy wins the national elections by a landslide. Aung San Suu Kyi cannot become president because of the clause in the constitution which bars her because her late husband and her children are foreigners. He party cannot change the constitution because such changes require a 75% vote, and 25% of seats are reserved for the military.
  • 1 April 2016: The lower house creates a position of State Counsellor, equivalent to Prime Minister, and appoints Aung Sung Suu Kyi to this position. 

And so it was that on 6 April 2016, almost 28 years after she addressed the 8888 Uprising, Aung San Suu Kyi became de facto head of state,

There was, however, a significant restraint to her role: the elected government had no power over the military.

This would prove to render her powerless when the military began what we now know as the Rohingya genocide  in October 2016.

We will pick up that story tomorrow.

Daw Aung San Suu Kyi's firt ever public speech 1988

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