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Aung San Suu Kyi must speak out on behalf of the Rohingya

(Photo: EPA)

June 25, 2015

The farce that is Burmese democracy continues and with it continues the oppression of the country’s Rohingya minority.

The Burmese parliament has just thrown out proposals to amend the constitution. The effect has been to seriously weaken the position of the opposition National League for Democracy while entrenching the role of the military in the country’s governance.

The parliament also failed to change the rule which currently debars NLD leader, the Nobel Peace Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi from running for the presidency, because her late husband was English. The opposition had also been demanding that the 75 percent vote needed to change the constitution be cut by five percent. That too was thrown out. Aung San Suu Kyi had warned that real change could only come with a real change to the constitution. Now she has seen that real change is not on offer.

The elections which are expected toward the end of the year could yet have a nasty surprise for Aung San Suu Kyi and her party. In 1990 the generals ignored an overwhelming win by the NLD and reasserted their dictatorship through a pitiless military junta.

Yet Aung San Suu Kyi seems powerless in the face of this latest setback. It ought to be as clear as daylight that the generals are not going to relinquish power. They even rejected this week a move to remove their veto on legislation.

And there is something no less important that is happening here. With each fresh humiliation, with her refusal to speak out on crucial issues, not the least of which is the appalling treatment of the Rohingya Muslims, Aung San Suu Kyi is losing her reputation and her power.

It is clear that her passivity is causing restlessness among important members of her party. She is still insisting that change can be brought about through negotiation. She does not want to risk violent confrontation. Yet others would argue that her refusal to take a stand and speak out sharply is actually making violence at some point in the future more likely.

It may be a harsh judgement, but maybe Aung San Suu Kyi is trying too hard to live up to that Peace Prize. Maybe if part of the Burmese population were not being persecuted for their Muslim faith and herded into concentration camps for “their own protection”, maybe if Buddhist thugs were not targeting other Muslims and minorities, then maybe the NLD leader’s Gandhi-like nonviolence would carry weight.

But because of the genocidal treatment of the Rohingyas, it is not an approach that works. Yet at the same time Aung San Suu Kyi’s reputation is being used by former general President Thein Sein and his military cronies to lure in foreign businesses and investors.

Until the Burmese Peace Laureate is prepared to quit pussyfooting around and call out the military for their bloody oppression of Burmese Muslims, she and her international reputation are going to be exploited mercilessly by the military regime. There is nothing heroic about staying silent, and the danger for Aung San Suu Kyi is that the world will judge her harshly for her silence. So much was expected of her, so many hopes invested in her. The disappointment may well be as bitter as it will be sudden.

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