In retrospect it almost seems inevitable. Myanmar’s military junta, which ruled the country for 22 years and only relinquished power in the early part of the past decade, was never going to cede total control. After the ruling NLD — led by the once celebrated and lately controversial Aung San Suu Kyi — secured a landslide, we should have expected trouble to brew. Where the Myanmar military’s proxy political faction, the USDP, failed — securing a measly 33 seats out of 476 — the junta decided to settle things in its favour the only way it knows how: by force.
The ‘free’ world, as those who lead it like to fashion it in public, has lionised the resistance. Largely young and pro-democracy, they lend to narrative that is familiar to the point of cliché. Of course, one should not be cynical enough to ignore or even condone a regime that has proven itself exceptionally brutal over the years. But Myanmar’s problems run far deeper and need more than superficial ¬¬sloganeering to fix.
There was a time Suu Kyi was the darling of the world community. A charismatic woman leader under detention for her seemingly unwavering struggle for democracy, she was in many ways a poster child for the political milieu of the 1990s. But we all know by now what Suu Kyi revealed herself to be. Her unapologetic justification of the genocide of Myanmar’s Rohingya Muslim minority and the arrests of journalists who dared to document it prove that it takes more than lip service to democracy to be a liberal and a humanist.
As a new generation of Myanmar youth leads the charge against this latest round of junta’s heavy-handedness, there is a risk that once again the country’s deeper ethnic issues will be overlooked. The protesters are all, once again, members of Myanmar’s Buddhist majority and their demands are limited to the restoration and release of a democratically elected leadership. To bring lasting positive change to Myanmar, both its own populace and the world at large would do well to include and safeguard the country’s minorities in an overarching political narrative.
Published in The Express Tribune, March 8th, 2021.