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Sabtu, 06 Februari 2021

Aung San Suu Kyi spent her life playing cat and mouse with Myanmar's generals. Did she lose the final round? - ABC News

To many of Myanmar's people she is known as "Mother Suu", so when news of Aung San Suu Kyi's arrest by the military in an audacious pre-dawn raid spread around the nation, a familial type of anger, shock, surprise, and sadness spread too.

Myanmar's "mother" was in trouble and her supporters felt helpless and afraid.

Aung San Suu Kyi is enormously popular within her country and achieves a level of adoration that other world leaders could only dream of.

In last November's election, her National League for Democracy (NLD) Party won 83 per cent of the vote — and that was due in large part to the 75-year-old.

So what is it about "Mother Suu" that Myanmar's people like so much?

Yangon-based journalist Han Thar told the ABC that the majority of the population supports her because she has proven time and time again to be "a good leader" who puts her country above herself.

"She always passionately and calmly stands for the people," he said.

"People believe that her morals and her ethics are strong, that's why most of Myanmar's people believe in her. And even when the military junta gives her trouble, she faces it, she does not run from trouble."

Indeed, the military has been giving Ms Suu Kyi and her family trouble for decades.

A life intertwined with military brass

Aung San Suu Kyi was the daughter of independence hero General Aung San, who was assassinated in 1947 when she was just two years old.

A black and white photo of Aung San Suu Kyi as a toddler sitting with her family
Aung San Suu Kyi (centre) is the daughter of independence hero General Aung San.(Wikimedia Commons)

"General Aung San was revered because he lost his life as a result of the contribution he made to post-colonial politics," Professor Melissa Crouch from the University of New South Wales told the ABC.

She spent much of her young life overseas, studied at Oxford University, married British academic Michael Aris, and had two sons.

Life changed forever in 1988 when she returned home to nurse her dying mother.

She joined the student-led revolution against the military junta that had seized power after her father's death.

She was softly spoken but her passion for democracy was clear, and she quickly rose to become the movement's outspoken leader.

A crowd of people gathered holding flags and listening to a woman
Thousands in Myanmar took to the streets demanding democratic reforms in 1988.(AP)

"In 1988 there were demonstrations against the military and socialist rule in almost every major city and town and Aung San Suu Kyi was seen as the pivotal unifying figure against the military," Myanmar analyst David Mathieson told the ABC.

"She was calling for free elections and respect for humans rights, and that nationwide uprising was one year before Tiananmen Square and the fall of the Berlin wall and [three years before India's] Golden Revolution.

"It was a major defining moment of modern Myanmar and she was the symbol of that."

A lakeside home becomes a prison

When the NLD won the next election, the military did not allow it to take office and many of its members, including Ms Suu Kyi, were detained.

She then spent most of the next 15 years under house arrest in her family's lakeside home.

A woman with dark hair and wearing an orange dress with a straw hat speaks into a microphone with two men on either side.
People would travel from far and wide to hear Aung San Suu Kyi speak in the 90s.(AP: Stuart Isett)

Not deterred, she continued to address supporters from behind the gates.

"I think that grit and that style and that personality really appealed to a lot of people in Myanmar."

In 2010, the military began a series of democratic reforms and the woman who had become the symbol of those ideals was released before thousands of weeping, cheering supporters.

Her NLD party won the first free and fair election for decades in a landslide in 2015.

Rules in the constitution prevented Ms Suu Kyi from becoming president, so a special role of state counsellor, which is essentially the de facto leader, was created for her.

Revered at home but reviled abroad

Ms Suu Kyi remained popular at home, but soon the international community that had celebrated her began to see a different side.

Aung San Kyi Kyi appears in public ahead of a historic election on Sunday, November 8, 2015
Aung San Suu Kyi became a global pariah after she sided with the Myanmar military in their crackdown on the Rohingya Muslim minority.(Reuters/Jorge Silva)

She publicly backed the military's crackdown on the Rohingya Muslim minority during her appearance at the International Court of Justice in 2019.

She said the "displacement" of thousands of Rohingya was due to an "internal armed conflict".

"Her fall from grace in the eyes of the international community was as result of the conflict and mass displacement of the Rohingya in 2016 and 2017," Professor Crouch said.

"Her response, in many ways, didn't really differ from the military and was perceived to be defending the military."

Professor Crouch said that while many in the international community were horrified by her response and rescinded some of her human rights accolades, inside Myanmar, the reaction was very different.

Ethnic-Rohingya people rest after arriving by boat on a beach in North Aceh.
The Rohingya have been persecuted for decades, but a surge in violence in 2017 saw villages burned and some 700,000 flee to neighbouring Bangladesh.(AP: Zik Maulana)

"It's useful to keep in mind that most people in Myanmar were supportive of her position on the Rohingya," she said.

"There was a smaller group of people who might have disagreed.

"But by and large there was strong, popular support for her and her position, despite the fact that there was this devastating crisis and you have many Rohingya who are now facing long-term periods of displacement."

'This coup is not against Aung San Suu Kyi'

Ultimately it was a confluence of events that brought Ms Suu Kyi back down: a landslide victory that humiliated the military in November, coupled with a looming deadline for her rival.

Min Aung Hlaing in military dress uniform shaking hands with a smiling Aung San Suu Kyi
Senior General Min Aung Hlaing is now in charge in Myanmar after Aung San Suu Kyi's arrest on charges of importing illegal communications equipment.(Reuters: Soe Zeya Tun)

General Min Aung Hlaing was supposed to retire from the military this year. Instead, he's appointed himself the country's new ruler.

A stash of illegally imported walk-talkies allegedly found in her home could be enough to keep Ms Suu Kyi locked up — and out of the General's way — for another three years.

A conviction would rule her out of running in the election the junta has pledged to hold in 12 months.

Ms Suu Kyi might have fallen out of favour with countries and organisations that were once strong supporters, but this week they have been united in denouncing the military coup and calling for her release from detention.

"The world needs to be mature in the way that it views Myanmar," Mr Mathieson said.

"This coup is not about Aung San Suu Kyi, it's about 53 million people, and any international response has to be predicated in helping the entire country, not just one individual."

Yangon journalist Han Thar said people right across Myanmar felt the same way and were pleading with the international community to respond strongly to the military junta.

"I am trying to be a professional as a journalist but at the same time I am also a concerned citizen of Myanmar and I am crying a little bit," he said.

He said that Aung San Suu Kyi and her NLD party's landslide election wins in 2015 and 2020 helped people believe in democracy.

"We saw the hope, we saw the future, we were going to be a democracy this time.

"We cannot go back."

A group of people hold portraits of Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi in front of a large photo of her.
While her reputation has suffered internationally due to her response to the Rohingya crisis, she remains hugely popular in the country.(AP: Thein Zaw)

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2021-02-06 19:25:00Z
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