The Rise and Fall of Myanmar’s Aung San Suu Kyi Explained | NowThis World

A non-violent freedom fighter? War crimes apologist? Or something in between? Aung San Suu Kyi’s decades-long, non-violent struggle for democracy made her a hero around the world But once appointed to office, many say her leadership has been disappointing

So who is she really? This is the rise and fall of Myanmar’s Aung San Suu Kyi Born on June 19, 1945, in what was then known as Rangoon, Burma Aung San Suu Kyi was destined to be defiant from the start — it was in her blood Her father was none other than Aung San — the former military general who negotiated Burma’s independence from the British in 1947 He became known as a national hero, and the founder of modern-day Myanmar, which was then known as Burma

But in 1947, when Suu Kyi was just two years old, everything changed Her father was assassinated by a rival politician In the years following his murder, Suu Kyi’s mother, Khin Kyi, became a politician herself She was appointed the country's ambassador to India in 1960 — a job that would bring the young Suu Kyi abroad, and shape her world view She went to high school in New Delhi, finding herself studying in a country that had also gained independence from the British just two decades prior

And while she was in India, Suu Kyi’s country was in chaos In 1962, General Ne Win deposed the country’s democratically elected leader, ushering in a new era of military rule in Burma Suu Kyi looked at her country from afar, as the progress that her father made seemed to be unravelling Upon graduating from high school in 1964, she went on to study with the global elite at Oxford University She studied philosophy, politics, and economics there, but she walked away with more than a degree

Oxford was where she met Michael Aris whom she would marry in 1972 They eventually settled in the United Kingdom, where they had two sons During this time, Suu Kyi would continue to watch as her country was sinking even further into dictatorship As she raised her kids, Suu Kyi dove into researching and writing a biography on her father But in 1988, everything would change for Aung San Suu Kyi

Her mother suffered a serious stroke, so Suu Kyi returned to Burma to be her caregiver Call it a coincidence or fate, but her return happened at one of the most pivotal moments in Burmese politics Nationwide protests against one-party rule and the military dictatorship culminated in what later became known as the The regime cracked down on these pro-democracy protesters violently Some estimate that over 3,000 people were killed, even though authorities claim that number to be much lower at 350 people In search of a leader to get behind, the protesters looked to the then 43-year-old Suu Kyi to fill the shoes of her father — as a fighter for Burmese democracy

And that’s exactly what she did On August 26th, 1988 — standing before a crowd of an estimated 500,000 people on the steps of the country’s iconic Shwedagon Pagoda, Suu Kyi called for democracy in Burma As the country continued to deal with civil unrest, “the State Law and Order Restoration Committee” was created, which was the new military government that would rule over Burma After the government allowed for the creation of political parties, Suu Kyi launched the National League for Democracy party, or the NLD But Suu Kyi would soon discover that her fight for democracy would be a long and constant struggle with the military

After the passing of her mother, Suu Kyi persisted in her fight for democracy — even at great personal expense Staying in Burma meant being separated from her family who stayed behind in the United Kingdom Undeterred, her bold demands for human rights, as well as her growing popularity among the people, made the soft-spoken Suu Kyi, one of the biggest threats to Burma’s military establishment The military was so concerned with Suu Kyi that it made her a political prisoner in 1989 She was placed under house arrest and barred from elected office in the country, which was officially renamed Myanmar

But Suu Kyi’s impact on Burmese politics was already past the point of control Despite her detention, Suu Kyi’s NLD party won a landslide victory in the country’s parliamentary election in 1990 And the military was completely shocked by the results It refused to recognize the NLD’s victory and cracked down on the group All the while, Suu Kyi remained dedicated to promoting non-violent resistance to military rule — even as her supporters were being rounded up placed in prison

Her stubborn dedication to non-violence made her popular on the world stage, earning her the nickname “The Lady” After the European Parliament awarded her its Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought in 1990, Suu Kyi wrote that" Those words would come to haunt her in the years later The next year she was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize — which cemented her as a global figure But she wasn’t able to accept either award in person because of her continued house arrest that lasted for six years She was released from house arrest on July 10, 1995

But the military would continue restricting her activity and movement over the next 5 years — banning her from traveling outside on the capital city She was faced with the difficult decision of choosing between her personal freedom and her fight for democracy And she chose to fight It would become increasingly clear to Suu Kyi that not only was her freedom at stake, but also her life In November 1996, an NLD motorcade that Suu Kyi was in was attacked by nearly 200 men in Yangon, formerly known as Rangoon

And security forces did nothing to stop the attack as it unfolded But she was undeterred by the risks [SUU KYI]: It is surprising that they should ask us to make concessions when it is the military regime that has arrested our people, and which is continuing to arrest our people illegally outside of the law, torturing them, imprisoninig them and subjecting their families to much harasment and oppression [HOST]: Once again, she would face the heartbreaking decision she had faced before One between family and country

Her husband Michael was diagnosed with an aggressive form of prostate cancer back in the United Kingdom In 1999, he requested that the military government allow into Myanmar to see Suu Kyi one last time It rejected his request, but said it would allow Suu Kyi to travel to visit him instead Suu Kyi was now faced with an unimaginable choice To see her husband one last time she would risk not being allowed back into her country

She chose to stay, and fight And on March 27th, 1999, Michael died

Even in her time of grief, she continued to push against political oppression in Myanmar And on September 15th, 2000 — she had had enough In front of NLD supporters, she boldly declared that she would travel outside of Yangon — defying the military government Later that month, as she prepared to board a train out of the city, security forces flooded the station and prevented her from leaving And days later, she would once again find herself in a familiar situation

Suu Kyi was placed under house arrest AGAIN But there was something different about this time With Suu Kyi out of the public eye and less threatening to the government, they began secret negotiations over the country’s future Two years later, on May 6th, 2002, Suu Kyi emerged from the confines of her home and addressed hundreds of her supporters who had longed for her return to public life Government officials even said that Myanmar was entering into a new era, where citizens could ”freely” participate in politics

Suu Kyi took advantage of this She began touring the country to visit supporters, but she was often accompanied with government officials Things were fianlly looking up for Suu Kyi — but one eventful day would undo all the progress she had made In 2003, another one of Suu Kyi’s convoys was attacked by pro-government mobs And this one was worse than the one before — at least 4 NLD bodyguards were killed

The government responded by arresting Suu Kyi She was detained before being put under house arrest again And this time would become the longest amount of time she spent under house arrest As the years passed, Suu Kyi patiently waited to continue her fight But the government tried to delay this as long as it could

It extended her sentence not once or twice, but on four different occasions It wasn’t until 2010, that she would once again emerge from her house into the crowds of supporters who had long awaited the return of their leader And she hit the ground running She began working with the NLD to prepare for upcoming parliamentary elections in 2012 And they won — big

Over two decades since the 8-8-88 Uprising thrust her into the fight for democracy, she finally achieved her goal, her party won the election in a landslide They secured 43 of the open 45 seats in parliament Suu Kyi was elected the leader of the opposition — but she wasn’t finished yet She set her sights on the country’s 2015 election — which would be the first openly-contested general election in Myanmar in over 25 years Even though the military government was slowly letting go of some control, it had no plan to let go of the sweeping powers given to it in the country's 2008 constitution

Despite having democratic elections, the military is entitled to 25 percent of seats in parliament That makes it impossible to change the constitution without the military's approval — which requires over 75 percent of parliament to approve Despite this political reality, Suu Kyi and her party still ran in the 2015 election [SUU KYI]: Who said I’m gonna be prime minister? The prime minister is below the president I’ve said I am going to be above the president

[HOST]: And again they won big The NLD, which had struggled for power for decades, had finally became the ruling party

[PROTESTER]: She’s our mother! [HOST]: It formed a government and in 2016 created the position of State Counselor for Suu Kyi — making her the de facto leader of Myanmar’s government The position was created because Suu Kyi wasn’t allowed to become president, due to the constitutional restrictions on citizens with foreign-born spouses or children… But her leadrship in Myanmar has revealed a side of the leader that the world hadn’t seen before That she, too, was capable of falling into the same pattern of others in positions of power that she once warned about in 1990… Since rising to power in Myanmar Suu Kyi’s reputation on the world stage has drastically changed as she continues to defend the country’s violent actions in it’s Rakhine state against the ethnic and religious minority Rohingya people In 2016, a group known as the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) attacked police outposts in Rakhine Then reports began to emerge that Myanmar security forces were committing violence against the Rohingya, which some said amounted to ethnic cleansing The international community has looked to the Nobel Peace Prize winning Suu Kyi to defend human rights in her country

But she’s repeatedly failed to do so as the de facto head of Myanmar’s civilian government In an exclusive interview with the BBC in April 2017, she denied that ethnic cleansing was taking place in Myanmar She also pushed back against international criticism of her handling of the crisis [BBC Reporter]: Do you think people in the west misjudged you? Or mischaracterized you? Or misunderstood you? Expecting you to be this amalgam of Mahatma Gandhi and Mother Teresa? And actually, maybe you’re closer in you’re determination and steeliness to someone like Margaret Thatcher? [Suu Kyi]: Well no, I’m just a politician

I’m not quite like Margaret Thatcher, no But on the other hand, I’m no Mother Teresa either I’ve never said I was Mahatma Gandhi, actually, was a very astute politician [HOST] Since that interview, UN officials have called what’s happening in Myanmar genocide

Creating one of the world’s worst humanitarian crisis today, with over 700,000 Rohingya having fled the country for safety since 2017 Suu Kyi, once beloved around the world, now found herself fallen from grace on the world stage Some even began calling for her Nobel Prize to be revoked over her position on the Rohingya crisis And in December of 2017, she’d found herself once again at the center of international criticism Two Reuters journalists were arrested for their investigative reporting into the atrocities happening in Rakhine state Suu Kyi, who could push for the reporters to be pardoned, has refused to do so [SUU KYI]: They were not jailed because they were journalist They were jailed because the court has well, sentence has been passed on them because the court has decided that they have broken the Official Secret Act So, if we believe in the rule of law, they have every right to appeal the judgement and to point out why the judgement is wrong, if they consider it wrong" [HOST]:As she holds onto power in Myanmar, Aung San Suu Kyi’s story will continue to unfold

Only time will tell if she’ll go down in history as the non-violent, freedom fighter she’s been for decades Or just another power hungry politician who’s been complicit in war crimes?

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