« | Home | »

Why did they let her out?

Tags:

In all the excitement at Aung San Suu Kyi’s release, too little attention has been paid to the question of why the junta let her out of house arrest. Regime officials say that she had come to the end of her term and so, by law, they could not hold her any more. But that explanation won’t do: in Burma, the ‘law’ is whatever the junta says it is, and the regime has on numerous occasions over the past twenty years come up with new trumped-up charges to keep Suu Kyi locked up.

Some observers have suggested that the junta, overconfident after the rigged elections, has made a major mistake in releasing Suu Kyi. She’s enormously popular in Burma, and were she to travel the country again would undoubtedly draw crowds in the tens of thousands, as she did the last time she was free, nearly ten years ago.

But I don’t think the regime miscalculated. For all its isolation, xenophobia and sometimes bizarre behaviour, the Burmese junta has proved itself a survivor. It’s going to use Suu Kyi, as it often has before, for its own purposes. Her release has, for one, diverted much of the world’s attention from the rigged election, which has solidified the junta’s rule and passed down power to a new generation of military-controlled political parties. The Association of South-East Asian Nations has praised the regime for freeing Suu Kyi and described the election as a step forward. Thailand has announced plans to help Burma build a multi-billion-dollar port.

Suu Kyi’s release has also distracted attention from the recent wave of privatisation, which has ensured that many of Burma’s most important state assets are now in the hands of regime cronies or the families of top generals.

The junta has pulled this trick before. In the mid-1990s and again in the early 2000s, when it released Suu Kyi from house arrest, Burma received boosts in foreign investment and aid, and was allowed to join Asean. Once it had got what it wanted, the junta locked Suu Kyi up again, or, in 2003, attacked her and her convoy on a rural road, killing at least 60 of her supporters. Yet the outside powers, particularly Burma’s neighbours, never seemed to learn, and this time appear willing to offer a new round of engagement with the junta even though there is little guarantee that it will not lock Suu Kyi up again. A regime that has outmanoeuvred the world for five decades looks set to do so once more.

Comment on this post

Log in or register to post a comment.


  • Recent Posts

    RSS – posts

  • Contributors

  • Recent Comments

    • mideastzebra on Swedish-Israeli Tensions: Avigdor Liberman was not foreign minister November 2015.
    • lars hakanson on Exit Cameron: Europe will for good reason rejoice when the UK elects to leave. The country has over the years provided nothing but obstacles to European integration...
    • Michael Schuller on Immigration Scandals: The Home Office is keen to be seen to be acting tough on immigration, although I'm not sure that the wider project has anything to do with real number...
    • Geoff Roberts on What happened in Cologne?: The most surprising thing about the events in Cologne (and the most disturbing) is that some 600 incidents of theft, harrasment and rape were reported...
    • EmilyEmily on What happened in Cologne?: The author's argument is straightforward: Sexual violence is one beast; fears about migrants is another - let's not confuse the two. Alfalfa's poin...

    RSS – comments

  • Contact

  • Blog Archive

  • From the LRB Archive

    Chris Lehmann: The Candidates
    18 June 2015

    ‘Every one of the Republican candidates can be described as a full-blown adult failure. These are people who, in most cases, have been granted virtually every imaginable advantage on the road to success, and managed nevertheless to foul things up along the way.’

    Hugh Pennington:
    The Problem with Biodiversity
    10 May 2007

    ‘As a medical microbiologist, for example, I have spent my career fighting biodiversity: my ultimate aim has been to cause the extinction of harmful microbes, an objective shared by veterinary and plant pathologists. But despite more than a hundred years of concentrated effort, supported by solid science, smallpox has been the only success.’

    Jeremy Harding: At the Mexican Border
    20 October 2011

    ‘The battle against illegal migration is a domestic version of America’s interventions overseas, with many of the same trappings: big manpower commitments, militarisation, pursuit, detection, rendition, loss of life. The Mexican border was already the focus of attention before 9/11; it is now a fixation that shows no signs of abating.’

    James Meek: When the Floods Came
    31 July 2008

    ‘Last July, a few days after the floods arrived, with 350,000 people still cut off from the first necessity of life, Severn Trent held its annual general meeting. It announced profits of £325 million, and confirmed a dividend for shareholders of £143 million. Not long afterwards the company, with the consent of the water regulator Ofwat, announced that it wouldn’t be compensating customers: all would be charged as if they had had running water, even when they hadn’t.’

Advertisement Advertisement