Suu Kyi’s Tainted Victory
The National League for Democracy Party, led by Aung San Suu Kyi, wins another landsilde in Myanmar’s general elections. Meanwhile activists for democracy were being detained and people were denied the right to vote in Rakhine.
A victory was secured by Aung San Suu Kyi and her party, the National League for Democracy (NLD), in Myanmar’s general election on Sunday, November 8, extending Suu Kyi’s term for five more years. Polling showed that the NLD won by a landslide, winning 346 out of 412 seats in parliament. NLD Spokesperson Myo Nyunt said that they hope that the election results will help “minimize political conflict.”
This marks Myanmar’s second general election, after the first one in 2015 which was also won by the NLD, ending more than five decades of military junta rule. “People clearly realized the need for the NLD to get enough votes to form a government on their own,” Myo Nyunt said, as reported by Al Jazeera on Friday, November 13.
The election was held in the middle of the Covid-19 pandemic. Since August, the country has reported 60,000 cases and more than 1,300 deaths. Calls to postpone the election were ignored by the government. The General Elections Commission insisted that the election be continued and ensured that process would follow health protocols. The Commission also declared that the election had been held freely, fairly, and transparently.
According to NLD party member Monywa Aung Shin, their party’s victory signified that the public largely supported them. The party also stated that they would invite minority ethnic groups to collaborate. “We still need to work on forming a unified national government,” he said as reported by the BBC.
NLD’s largest opposition, the Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) accused—without evidence—the government of mismanaging the general election. In a press release published on Wednesday, November 11, the military-backed USDP rejected the results of the election. They demanded that the government hold a free, fair and unbiased election.
While the election results helped boost the image of Suu Kyi, who is still popular among the Bamar people, the ethnical majority in the country, to the international community, her shine has dulled. The reputation of the 75-year-old woman continues to dwindle after the Myanmar military’s attack against the Rohingya in 2017. More than 700,000 Rohingya people were displaced after soldiers invaded Rakhine State to hunt down Arakan Rohingya militias. Many of the Rohingya people currently live in refugee camps in Bangladesh and other countries. United Nations reports called the attack an act of genocide. The Myanmar government has denied the allegations and claimed that the military was only hunting down Arakan rebel militias.
The general election this time has practically left no room for the votes of Rohingya in Rakhine. The General Elections Commission has prohibited large parts of the region from holding elections for ‘security reasons’. “Rohingya are unable to vote and are blocked from accessing full citizenship rights under the discriminatory 1982 Citizenship Law,” said human rights activist from Fortify Rights, John Quinly, as reported by the CNN.
The election was also marred by the silencing of a number of pro-democracy activists. Before the election, 14 students were arrested by police from their homes and campuses for allegedly violating peaceful assembly laws and disturbing public order. Some students that eluded police pursuit were forced into hiding. Information regarding the detainment of these students were reported by the All Burma Federation of Student Unions (ABFSU) and the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP).
The ABFSU is part of a pro-democracy group that has been active since the 1930s and paved the way for Myanmar civilian groups to enter the government. This organization has a special relationship with Aung San, Suu Kyi’s father, who was one of its founders. However, the organization received even more pressure under Suu Kyi’s regime, specifically after they campaigned to boycott the general election. Suu Kyi, at a conference with state officials on August 5, said the campaign was ‘irresponsible’.
During the campaign criticizing the government that started last August, activists distributed flyers with slogans such as “stop the dictator” and “fight the murderous fascist” in a number of cities. They also demanded for Internet access in Rakhine to be restored. Swam Pyae Tae, one of the students in hiding, said that they only want the civil war in Rakhine to be stopped. “We only want peace,” Swam told Free Asia radio.
The Human Rights Watch condemned the Myanmar government for intimidating and persecuting students who are peacefully expressing their views. They also said that police actions were excessive for equating distributing stickers and leaflets with unlawful assembly. “Neither criticizing the government nor peacefully protesting should be a crime,” said Human Rights Watch activist Linda Lakhdir.
The detainment of these activists has tainted Suu Kyi’s victory, who was once a beacon for democracy and a winner of the Nobel Peace Prize. Furthermore, military power in the government has not waned. After successfully gaining public support in the 2015 general election and serving on the State Council, Suu Kyi has yet to fulfill her promise to reverse the repressive laws of her country.
Instead of fortifying democracy, the Myanmar government has persecuted opposition groups, political activists, and journalists reporting on issues that are considered sensitive in the country. Among the most prominent cases is the detainment of two Reuters journalists, Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo, in 2017. The two reporters published an investigative report on the killing of 10 Rohingya Muslims by the military and hardline Buddhists during the military attack in Rakhine. Both were found guilty of violating the State Secrecy Act and sentenced to 7 years in prison. However, in 2019, they were freed after receiving amnesty from the President of Myanmar.
The actions of the Myanmar government to suppress pro-democracy has plummeted people’s faith in Suu Kyi. Some have even turned against her. Hnin, a student activist, lamented that Suu Kyi failed to fulfill her promise to unite Myanmar citizens. “I have no more trust in her,” said the 21-year-old woman as quoted by Reuters. “It is impossible to reach democracy with the path she has taken.”
Ye Wai Phyo Aung, founder of the human rights organization Athan, said that he is very disappointed with Suu Kyi’s government. After voting for the NLD party in 2015 when he turned 20 years old, Ye Wai now opposes her, and demands for democracy and freedom of expression in his country.
Since Suu Kyi and the NLD party came to power, military persecution of civilians has increased. Athan noted that the Myanmar army had filed 47 lawsuits against 96 people, including 51 activists, four artists and three members of political parties. According to Ye Wai, the government is now also hunting down Athan members. “Intelligence agencies are following us even on social media to monitor our activities and collect information on us,” Ye Wai told Deutsche Welle.