Down but not out

Down but not out

World condemns coup which unseated Suu Kyi as Myanmar's de facto leader, but she is not out of the woods yet

NLD leader Aung San Suu Kyi has been detained since Feb 1 but her whereabouts are still unknown. (Photo by Chanat Katanyu)
NLD leader Aung San Suu Kyi has been detained since Feb 1 but her whereabouts are still unknown. (Photo by Chanat Katanyu)

Aung San Suu Kyi, leader of the National League for Democracy (NLD) par­ty, and tarnished de­mo­cracy heroine of that country, hit the headlines on Feb 1 when she was arrested and deposed by the Myanmar military, aka Tatmadaw, in its coup.

Ms Suu Kyi along with other members of her party was accused of taking part in the Nov 2020 general election "fraud". Myanmar police have pressed several charges against her following the coup led by armed forces chief Min Aung Hlaing, including breaching import and export laws, and possession of unlawful communication devices.

She has been detained since but her whereabouts are still unclear. Reports say she is being held at her residence in the capital, Nay Pyi Taw.

Pro-democracy groups, her supporters in Myanmar and the United Nations Security Council have called for her release, pledging "continued support" for Myanmar's democratic transition.

Ms Suu Kyi, the elected civilian leader who served as Myanmar's State Counsellor, a role akin to a prime minister or head of government, led her NLD party to win a landslide victory in the 2015 elections.

However she was barred from becoming the president due to a clause in Myanmar's charter saying that anyone who married a foreign national can not become the president. She was widely seen as a de facto leader.

In 2016, Ms Suu Kyi met migrant workers in Samut Sakhon for an official visit after she took on the job. She spoke to a crowd of a few hundred migrant workers, urging improved relations with Thai authorities and the Myanmar embassy.

"Burmese people have to live in Thailand as guests, and as such, the hosts will respect the guests. The Myanmar embassy must help Burmese workers in Thailand,'' she said.

Ms Suu Kyi received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991 while still under house arrest. She gave up her freedom to challenge the army generals who ruled Myanmar for decades.

When she was Myanmar's State Counsellor, she faced a barrage of criticism over Myanmar's treatment of Rohingya Muslims in Rakhine state.

In 2017, critics called for Suu Kyi's Nobel prize to be revoked, citing her silence over the persecution of Rohingya people in Myanmar. However the Nobel prize panel said the prize was awarded for her past achievements in fighting for democracy and freedom up until 1991.

So the rules regulating the Nobel prizes did not allow for a prize to be withdrawn. However, she is not out of the woods yet. The International Court of Justice is mulling a case brought by Gambia against her as then leader of the country. She also faces ongoing condemnation from human rights defenders and Western countries, saying she has never brought up the issue of Rohingya for talks at an international level, and turns a blind eye to their plight.

Ms Suu Kyi, the youngest of Gen Aung San's children, has served as leader of the NLD party since 2011, having been general-secretary from 1988 to 2011. She played a key role in Myanmar's transition from the military junta to partial democracy in the 2010s.

Ms Suu Kyi, who has demonstrated courage in promoting democracy and peaceful political reform in Myanmar, was born in Yangon. Her father died when she was two, after which she left for India and England to study. She was married to Michael Aris, a British scholar, with two children.

She returned to Myanmar and took part in the 8888 Uprising of Aug 8, 1988 and became NLD general-secretary, which she had formed with the help of several retired army officials who criticised the junta.

In the 1990 elections, the NLD won 81% of the seats in parliament, but the results were nullified, as the military government refused to hand over power, resulting in an international outcry.

Ms Suu Kyi was detained before the elections and remained under house arrest for almost 15 of the 21 years from 1989 to 2010, becoming one of the world's most prominent political prisoners.

Her party boycotted the 2010 elections, resulting in a decisive victory for the military-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party. Her party won the elections in 2015 and 2020.

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