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Analysis: The Release of Aung San Suu Kyi




Myanmar's newly-released opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi (C) smiles as she arrives at the National League for Democracy (NLD) headquarters in Yangon on November 15, 2010. (STR/AFP/Getty Images)

Myanmar's newly-released opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi (C) smiles as she arrives at the National League for Democracy (NLD) headquarters in Yangon on November 15, 2010. (STR/AFP/Getty Images)

Two days after regaining freedom from house arrest, Aung San Suu Kyi, the charismatic leader of Burma/Myanmar's opposition, lost no time jumping back into politics. Her 15-year detention kept her on the political sidelines for the country's recent elections, but Suu Kyi addressed her supporters in defiant terms just minutes after her release.

But what does her release mean? Asia Society experts weigh in on what's next for the pro-democracy icon.

Suzanne DiMaggio, Director of Asia Society's Task Force on US Policy toward Burma/Myanmar, says the military leaders are "spinning" Suu Kyi's release. "It is more likely an attempt to deflect attention away from widespread reports of voter fraud and rigging in an election where the junta-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party claims to have won 80 percent of the vote."

DiMaggio sees Suu Kyi’s release as an opportunity for the Obama Administration, but the process of change through engagement threatens to be protracted. China and India should lend their weight to this, but will they? "In his address to India’s Parliament last week, when he voiced support for India’s seat on the U.N. Security Council, President Obama called on Delhi to play a more positive role in Burma. The gap with China on this issue seems as large as ever as Beijing hailed the elections as a critical step in Burma’s ‘transition to an elected government' ignoring the widespread irregularities and intimidation that took place prior to the election.”

Read DiMaggio's op-ed Why the US Must Not Give Up on Myanmar on CNN.com.

"The key to understanding this weekend's release of Aung San Suu Kyi," writes Sheridan Prasso, Asia Society Associate Fellow who interviewed Aung San Suu Kyi in 1998, "is that she has been released twice before, has agitated many times before for further political change—as she is doing once again—and then was re-detained for pushing the limits too far. We can surely expect a repeat of this tension-filled history: she won't be silent while more than 2,000 members of her party remain in prison under authoritarian rule; and the generals who recently cemented their power with a farcical election have no interest in sharing power or in letting Daw Suu loosen their grip." Prasso's original interview can be accessed here.

Aung San Suu Kyi has been called Asia's Nelson Mandela, but in a recent op-ed for the International Herald Tribune, Bertil Lintner, Asia Society Associate Fellow and author of seven books on Burma, wrote "many foreign observers are wondering whether her release will bring Myanmar's 'Mandela moment'—the beginning of the end of repression and the first, tangible step toward national reconciliation. But this is a skewed analogy. There are fundamental differences between the transition to majority rule in South Africa and Myanmar's struggle for democracy."

Read Lintner's The Burmese Junta's Latest Ruse  

Australian Broadcasting Corporation interviewed Aung San Suu Kyi today on the challenges that face her country as little has changed politically in Burma since her detention. When asked whether things had changed after the recent election, Suu Kyi's response was simple:

"At the moment I don't see any change at all. We've got to wait for a little bit to find out."

Read Asia Society's Task Force Report and Update here

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