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The Revolution in Myanmar No Longer Needs Aung San Suu Kyi

Myanmar Military Coup Protest. ©2021 AFP/Ye Aung THU

Merdeka.com – When a court in Myanmar on Monday handed down the first sentence in the junta’s long list of charges against Mr Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, the court closed a chapter of the democratic era in a country that has long been ruled by an iron fist of the military.

However, a new democratic movement has emerged — younger, more progressive, more confrontational and beyond what Suu Kyi has done. The hope now lies in the shadow government that was formed after Suu Kyi, Myanmar’s civilian leader, was detained by the military in a February 1 coup.

The challenges were enormous for this new group of leaders, known as the Government of National Unity (NUG), many of whom were forced to move from exile.

So far, no foreign country has recognized the shadow government, although representatives have met with senior US officials, including national security adviser Jake Sullivan.

But clearly, politics in Myanmar has been reshaped. The shadow government reaches out to the whole society. With the help of the protest movement, they operate an underground school, clinic and hospital. When it announced last month it would sell “bonds” to fund its revolution, it raised $6.3 million in one day. In September, the NUG called for “civil war” against the junta, prompting thousands of protesters known as the People’s Defense Forces to prepare for armed conflict.

“The landscape has really changed,” said Khin Ohmar, a Virginia-based veteran democracy activist who runs a human rights organization in Myanmar.

“Mainstream politics, the actors, the political consciousness of the people — they are all very different,” he continued, quoted by The New York Times, Wednesday (8/12).

Suu Kyi still has many loyal followers in Myanmar, who have criticized the military’s treatment of her. Hours after being sentenced Monday on charges of inciting public unrest and violating Covid-19 protocols, Myanmar’s junta leader, Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, reduced Suu Kyi’s four-year sentence to two years. Suu Kyi still faces nine other charges that could keep her in prison for the rest of her life.

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But there is widespread recognition today that Suu Kyi’s government has disappointed many people, including ethnic minorities and human rights activists.

Suu Kyi’s vision of democracy, both by circumstances and by choice, is limited. Most of the appointed ministers Suu Kyi come from the majority ethnic Bamar. And almost all of them are members of his party, the National League for Democracy (NLD). When Suu Kyi presiding over a civilian government, he appointed only one woman to his cabinet — himself.

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Inclusive governance

Meanwhile the NUG garnered a more diverse leadership, appointing members of ethnic minorities to the top positions. About a third of its ministers come from groups other than the Bamar majority, and from parties other than the NLD. Nine of the 37 cabinet ministers are women.

In June, the NUG said Rohingya Muslims should be given equal rights, in stark contrast to Aung San Suu Kyi who repeatedly refused to criticize the army’s campaign of ethnic cleansing against the Rohingya in 2017, when thousands were killed and more than 700,000 people driven across the border into Bangladesh. In 2019, in The Hague, he defended the army’s brutal actions, pushing calls for him to return the Nobel Peace Prize awarded in 1991.

The NUG has also proposed federalism as a way to reach out to the country’s ethnic groups. The NUG announced that if it took power, it would revoke the 2008 Constitution, which gives the military authority to block any constitutional changes that could undermine its rule.

“I think a lot of dynamics and a lot of stories have moved beyond Aung San Suu Kyi,” said Richard Horsey, Myanmar senior adviser to the International Crisis Group.

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“It’s not that he’s no longer loved and respected. It’s just that he was silenced, and a lot of things have happened without him.”

The NUG lists Aung San Suu Kyi as one of its top leaders and retains her title as state adviser. But it also signals a desire to move away from the model of concentrated power he used as half head of government and civilians for five years.

The NUG said it would seek broader consensus and take advice from a political body called the National Unity Consultative Council, which is made up of lawmakers from several political parties, armed ethnic organizations, civil society and people belonging to the protest movement.

“Our organization will not be led by one person alone,” said U Min Ko Naing, of the activist group 88 Generation Peace and Open Society, at a press conference last month while addressing the consultative council.

“It will be more like collective leadership.”

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Revolution without Suu Kyi

Aung San Suu Kyi is being held without communication in a house in the nation’s capital, Naypyidaw. A person who has spoken to her several times since her arrest said her legal team informed Suu Kyi of major events and steps taken by the shadow government, but that she was not in a position to provide advice or guidance.

Personally, Suu Kyi expressed her concern about the plight of the people and the brutality they face at the hands of the military. He was deeply concerned that so many people had been killed and so many young people taking up arms.

NUG’s deputy foreign minister, U Moe Zaw Oo, said he believed if Aung San Suu Kyi was released, he would support the decisions made while she was detained.

“There was a time during her house arrest in the 1990s and 2000s when the NLD had to make decisions in her absence,” said Moe Zaw Oo, who was once Suu Kyi’s aide.

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“Then, when he came out, he respected the decision and understood that decisions had to be made under certain circumstances. So, again at this point, I’m sure he’ll accept what’s left of the NLD to be done by the leaders.”

But Thinzar Shunlei Yi, a 30-year-old rights activist in Myanmar, says the revolution doesn’t need Aung San Suu Kyi anymore because she “has done her part.”

“We want to draw up a new script for our country because the time has come,” he said.

“Now is the time for the younger generation and tribal leaders to take leadership positions. Because the state is not just about one person. It’s about everyone.”

U Khin Zaw Win, director of the Tampadipa Institute, a Yangon-based policy advocacy organization, said none of the actions promised by the NUG would take place under “Aung San Suu Kyi’s shadow.”

He said Suu Kyi was not planning a replacement or bringing new blood to the NLD, which he called run like an “exclusive” club. Instead, Suu Kyi surrounds herself with advisors in her 70s and 80s.

“Every day, day after day, Aung San Suu Kyi is getting less and less connected to the revolution,” said Khin Zaw Win.

“The show could go on without him. It’s better if the show goes on without him.” [pan]

Also read:
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Myanmar Military Vehicle Hits Protesters During Protest, Five People Died
Myanmar Junta Accuses Aung San Suu Kyi of Election Fraud
US Journalist Who Was Sentenced to 11 Years in Prison in Myanmar Finally Freed
UN Security Council Calls for an Immediate End to Military Violence in Myanmar
Two Myanmar Political Prisoners Sentenced to 75 and 90 Years in Prison
UN warns millions of Myanmar citizens need to be saved from military violence


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