Editorial Notes

Myanmar's Aung San Suu Kyi speaks on Rohingya, but vaguely: The Statesman

Myanmar pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi speaking at a rally in her constituency, Kawhmu township, on Oct 24, 2015.
Myanmar pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi speaking at a rally in her constituency, Kawhmu township, on Oct 24, 2015.PHOTO: REUTERS

In its editorial on Oct 28, 2015, The Statesman says the democracy icon is acutely aware that next month's elections might turn out to be a tryst with democracy, but on the military's terms.

With less than a fortnight to go for watershed elections in Myanmar, opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi has broken her diplomatic silence on the persecuted minorities.

Ever so circumspect not to rock the junta applecart at a crucial juncture, she has called for unity in the volatile state of Rakhine and for "peace in our country".

Even her National League for Democracy (NLD) will concur that she has stopped short of being explicit on the persecution of the Rohingya Muslims, targeted by the Buddhists and wandering in choppy seas with nowhere to go. 

Twenty-five years after being denied the opportunity to rule despite a convincing electoral victory, Ms Suu Kyi has been generic in her reference to the ethnic minorities not least because she and the NLD are expected to do well in the polls and could push out the army-backed ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party, in what is generally reckoned to be the first free and fair election in the country in decades.

It is quite obvious that she has effected a delicate balancing act between two compulsions - her anxiety to woo the Muslim vote and the equally compelling anxiety not to alienate the junta.

Markedly, there is no mention in her electoral rhetoric to the interfaith violence that has roiled the country's border with Bangladesh.

"It is very important that all people, regardless of race and religion, living here must be safe. We can have peace in our country only if the people feel safe both mentally and physically."

That pregnant observation at an election rally in Thandwe is delightfully vague in terms of the targeted group and its persecutors.

Myanmar being Myanmar and if trends over the past two decades are any indication, it is but a short step between democratic elections and a renewal of the military's mandate.

The experience of the 1990s still rankles though a nominally civilian government - with a military facade - has been in office since 2011. Ms Suu Kyi is acutely aware that next month's elections might turn out to be a tryst with democracy but on the military's terms.

Her remarks were carefully worded, given the escalation in tension during the election campaign, notably the anti-Muslim hardline Buddhist group, Ma Ba Tha.

Echoing the stand of the GHQ, the group has sharply criticised the NLD for its support for Muslims.

For all her circumspection, the lodestar of democracy has without question let down the Rohingyas, turned away from port to port in South-east Asia a few months ago as they floundered in search of a base.

She has faced criticism from sections of the international community at her silence over the treatment of this segment.

The future of both democracy and the minorities are at stake on Nov 8.

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The Statesman is a member of The Straits Times media partner Asia News Network, a grouping of 22 newspapers seeking to promote coverage of Asian affairs.