In the international political scenario, we still haven’t come across a person who has risen so high and fallen so low – as Aung San Suu Kyi. The 1991 Nobel Peace Laureate has been compared to Nelson Mandela as well as Mahatma Gandhi, because of her ideology of peaceful resistance in the face of oppression. While her image in the international arena was stained due to her refusal to stand up for the case of the Rohingya community in crisis, she has been seen as a ray of hope for the helpless. Let us take a look at her life struggles and how she rose to power, against the backdrop of a military coup in Myanmar.
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Aung San Suu Kyi’s Early Life
Born on 19 June, 1945, in Rangoon, Burma (now Myanmar), she was the youngest daughter of the martyred hero of independent Burma, General Aung, who negotiated the Independence of Burma from the British rule. In 1947, when she was just 2 years old, her father was assassinated by his political rivals. In 1960, her mother Daw Khin Kyi, was appointed as the Ambassador to India and they settled in New Delhi, where she attended high school, before going to England to pursue BA in Philosophy, Politics and Economics, at Oxford University.
She married a British scholar Michael Boris and lived a peaceful life with him and their 2 children, until 1988, when she returned to Burma to take care of her ailing mother.
“If you’re feeling helpless, help someone.”
Political Career and House Arrest
The Burma that she returned to was in an utter state of turmoil. There were a series of mass protests and demonstrations against the military rule under General Ne Win. Seeing this state of unrest, she started a non-violent movement against his rule for the reinstatement of democracy and human rights. This was the year that began her journey as a political icon, when she founded National League for Democracy (NLD) and became the General Secretary of the party.
“I could not, as my father’s daughter, remain indifferent to all that was going on,” she said in an August 1988 speech. She became a figure of hope for people, who saw her as a woman who would bring back democracy.
- In 1989, while Burma officially became the ‘Union of Myanmar’, Aung San Suu Kyi continued raising her voice for democracy and human rights. She was put under house arrest by the government, which declared her invalid for the elected office.
- In 1990, in a landslide victory, her party, National League for Democracy (NLD), won 80% of the parliamentary seats, but the military junta refused to accept this and nullified the election results. In 1991, she was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for her non-violent movement in Myanmar. Since she was detained, her son accepted the award on her behalf.
- In 1995, her house arrest was lifted but there were still many restrictions placed on her movement around the country. Her husband passed away in 1999 but she couldn’t meet him because he was refused entry into the country, and she feared that if she leaves, she would not be allowed to return.
- She was put under house arrest again from 2000-2002, briefly released before being re-detained in 2003 due to political clashes between NLD and government supporters.
- For 15 years of her life, between 1989-2010, she was detained under house arrest and then released several times, before finally being released in 2010.
Aung San Suu Kyi, De facto Leader of Myanmar
In 2012, April, Suu Kyi contested in the parliamentary by-elections, and her party NLD won by a landslide.
The real victory came in 2015, in the first openly contested general elections, when the NLD emerged victorious by winning a great majority of seats and went on to form the next national government. Formerly, she held 4 positions in the legislature and these were the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Minister of Education, Minister of Electric Power and Energy and Minister of the President’s office.
Although she was forbidden to gain the presidency due to her family’s foriegn citizenship, her close associate Htin Kyaw was elected as the new president. She was given the title of State Counsellor and assumed the rule of de facto leader of the country.
Aung San Suu Kyi was condemned in the international arena for not standing up for the Rohingya muslims. She was gravely criticized, not only for being ignorant towards the brutality inflicted upon the Rohingya muslims in Rakhine state, but also for defending her country when she finally broke her silence. In 2016-17, thousands of Rohingya muslims had to flee the country to run from the persecution. There were cases of human rights abuses and Myanmar was accused of genocide in the International Court of Justice (ICJ).
Dedicating most of her life to raising her voice for human rights and being an awarded social activist, her lack of compassion for and refusal to act upon the Rohingya tragedy left the global community stunned. While she still remained an icon for the Buddhist population of the country, her image was gravely damaged in the outside world and she became an outcast!
“The only real prison is fear, and the only real freedom is freedom from fear”
Military Coup 2021
In 2020 parliamentary elections, her party NLD secured an overwhelming victory and was set to form the new government. The military challenged this result on the grounds of electoral fraud. On 1st February, when the newly elected parliament was supposed to hold their 1st session, the military seized power in a coup. Aung San Suu Kyi was arrested, along with many of her party leaders and the Myanmar military announced a state of Emergency and took over government administration. Suu Kyi was charged with possession of illegal walkie-talkies, which she was not authorized to possess. She was also charged for violating Covid-19 protocols. Currently, Military commander-in-chief Min Aung Hlaing has taken power. Location of Aung San Suu Kyi is still unknown.
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Despite her stained image in the international community, she is still very popular in Myanmar among Buddhist community, which has no consideration for the Rohingya community. She is the authoritarian woman that overthrew the military rule in Myanmar and brought back democracy. This is the story of how Aung San Suu Kyi, a principled activist who gave up her freedom to actively stand up for human rights, suffered a fall from an icon to an outcast. For more blogs into the lives of famous personalities, stay tuned at LeverageEdu!