Cowardly junta


The guilty verdict handed out to pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi in a case where she was accused of violating the country’s security laws indicates the extreme lengths that Myanmar’s military rulers are willing to go to keep her out of public and political life. She was accused of breaching the terms of her house arrest when an American man swam uninvited to her lakeside home some months ago. For this, she has been sentenced by the court to three years in prison, a sentence that was immediately commuted to 18 months under house arrest by the military government. This will mean that she will not be able to participate in general elections due next year. The generals were keen to ensure that she wouldn’t. Memories of the humiliating defeat Suu Kyi inflicted on them in the last election in 1990, when her National League for Democracy (NLD) romped home with 80 per cent of the seats in parliament, obviously remain vivid to date. Fearing that she would repeat that splendid performance if allowed to participate in the poll, they have tried every trick in the book to keep her out. The latest period of detention which began in 2003 was due to end in May this year. The allegations that she broke her detention rules came in handy to extend her arrest.

Myanmar’s generals claim they are committed to a seven-step roadmap to democracy culminating in free and fair elections in 2010. Such claims ring hollow as they have repeatedly indicated that their one-point agenda is not so much to allow people to determine who will represent them as it is to keep the generals in power and legitimise their role through elections. Their determined effort to keep Suu Kyi away from active politics — she has been in some form of detention for 13 of the last 19 years — indicates how frightened the generals are of a genuine democracy.

Over the past year and especially following Cyclone Nargis, the junta showed signs of opening up to the world, raising hopes of change, however slight, in the regime’s approach to conflict resolution. Such hopes have been dashed with the conviction of Suu Kyi. The junta seems bent on a collision course instead of opting for reconciliation.

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