The BBC reports that Nobel Prize-winner Aung San Suu Kyi has been released from house arrest. Ms. Suu Kyi has been detained for 15 of the past 21 years. The country Burma (also known as Myanmar), has been ruled as a military dictatorship for the past twenty years. The military suspended the Burmese constitution in September 1988, although a new constitution enacted in 2008, however.
An excellent documentary showing the military repression in Burma is Burma VJ. Directed by Anders Østergaard, the film follows the September 2007 uprisings against the military regime in Burma. Much of the movie was filmed on hand-held cameras, and the footage was smuggled out of the country.
Of late, however, the government has allowed some small increases in freedoms. The Economist reports that Myanmar actually held an election this year. “The elections are the first to be held since 1990, when the opposition won by a landslide. The regime refused to budge, rounded up its critics and annulled the results.” The election was the culmination of the generals’ stated aim to create a “discipline-flourishing democracy” that will return Burma to civilian rule. However, critics say they are a sham.
Although elections are being held, they are hardly free or fair. “The playing field is tilted firmly in favour of the junta’s Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), led by the prime minister. The USDP has vastly outspent its opponents, most of them puny upstarts put together at short notice with paltry resources. Parties had to stump up a $500 deposit for each candidate—a year’s wages in Myanmar—so most parties are contesting just a handful of seats. Of the 37 registered parties, only the USDP has nominated candidates for all 1,157 elected seats.” The main opposition NLD boycotted the vote.
As expected, the military lead USDF won the elections in a landslide. Western States dismissed the election results.
Although the release of Aung San Suu Kyi is certainly good news, but the timing should not be surprising. The release occurred after the recent election; likely in order to prevent Ms. Suu Kyi from contesting the election. Let’s hope the Nobel-prize winner can lead Burma to an era of freedom, openness, and civil rights for all Burmese citizens.
Should I call it Burma or Myanmar?
The name of this country is officially the Union of Burma, or Burma for short. However, the CIA World Factbook notes “since 1989 the military authorities in Burma have promoted the name Myanmar as a conventional name for their state; the US Government did not adopt the name, which is a derivative of the Burmese short-form name Myanma Naingngandaw.”