Aung San Suu Kyi and Burma

by Nic Olson

This Sunday, November 7th, 2010 while you are laying in bed, sitting in church, getting tattooed, or eating Fantuz Flakes, the people of Burma will be having an election. Or at least that is what they say. The last time there was an election in Burma was 1990 where an overwhelming percentage of the population voted for a small woman named Aung San Suu Kyi and just two percent voted for the existing military party. But instead of giving Aung San Suu Kyi the title of Prime Minister, the military regime put her under house arrest indefinitely for activism and marrying a white guy (I just found out that I walked directly past her place of house arrest when I was wandering the streets of Yangon). She gets out in a little more than a week from now.

Aung San Suu Kyi is a leader of the National League for Democracy (NLD) in Burma, a recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize. Her face is painted on a building in Pittsburgh (above), her words from her book ‘Freedom from Fear’ are quoted below. She is an advocate of peaceful demonstration.

Because of new laws put in place earlier this year Aung San Suu Kyi could not be a part of the election. The NLD has decided to boycott the upcoming elections because they are being carried out unjustly by the currently governing military junta. The NLD fears that the elections will be fixed so that the outcome favours the military which they will use to justify their rule. Not only are the elections in question due to the rule of the military, they have also been accused of hundreds of other human rights atrocities in their own country.

For the junta, holding the elections is the final step of their ‘roadmap’ for so-called a ‘disciplined democracy.’

The 2008 Constitution that the military carefully engineered for 15 years will be ratified by parliament after the elections while ensuring human rights violators ‘immunity.’ Moreover, the Army will play a leading role in Burma’s politics by reserving a quarter of parliamentary seats and key cabinet portfolios such as Home, Defense and Border Areas, as well as a control over a powerful decision-making body – ‘National Security and Defense Council.’

It is now much clearer that the military-backed political party ‘USDP’ and its affiliates are set to win in the elections by means of intimations, bribery and fraud. Therefore, the current election in Burma is not only meeting the lowest level of international standards, but also is a process of legalizing the military rule that is against the democratic principles and the desire of Burmese people in the establishment of a free, democratic and prosperous country.

Source: Canadian Friends of Burma

During my short time in Burma, the military rule was hidden but evident. Only some hotels were permitted for tourists and certain areas of the country were forbidden. The military checked up on where you were, when you checked into hotels, and monitored and regulated how far you could travel from certain airports. Internet access was sparse, and where it was available many websites were blocked permanently. Cell phones were very rarely owned by anyone and when they were, the network was extremely minimal. Tourists were not given access to the local currency, ‘Kyats’, and where it was found the exchange rate was half of what it was worth. American dollars could be used anywhere you went. There was an obvious presence, not often talked about and not often seen. I have Burmese friends who have known nothing but fear and restriction their whole lives, and there is possibility for this to change.

It is not by living to the age of ninety or one hundred that one lives the full life. Some people live well until they are ninety or one hundred without ever having done anything for anyone. They come into the world, live, then die without doing something for the world. I don’t think that is living a full life. To have the full life one must have the courage to bear the responsibility of the needs of others – one must want to bear this responsibility. Each and every one of us must have this attitude and we must instill it in our youth. We must bring up our children to understand that only doing what is meritorious is right.

-Aung San Suu Kyi, Freedom From Fear, Page 222

Knowledge is the beginning. For information on times for local demonstrations please click the Canadian Friends of Burma link below. The fact that it is a struggle to find up to date information on the situation makes me aware that this woman’s story and this country’s struggle need to be shared. And if you’d like to laugh too, check out the link to Will Ferrell’s relevant video below.

Sources: BBC FAQ, US Campaign for Burma, CBC, Canadian Friends of Burma, Will Ferrell Burma Video, Aung San Suu Kyi Poems