For­mer loy­al­ists lose faith in Myan­mar’s democ­racy icon

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such passion, al­ways pos­sessed an au­thor­i­tar­ian streak which only emerged once she gained power.

“We can’t ex­pect her to change the whole coun­try in one-and-a-half years, but we ex­pect a strong hu­man rights-based ap­proach,” Ma Thida says of the No­bel Peace Prize win­ner once hailed as “Myan­mar’s Joan of Arc” and spo­ken of in the same breath as South Africa’s Nel­son Man­dela and Ma­hatma Gandhi of India.

In­ter­na­tional crit­i­cism has fo­cused on Suu Kyi’s lack of ac­tion or con­dem­na­tion of vi­o­lence tar­get­ing the coun­try’s ap­prox­i­mately 1 mil­lion Ro­hingya Mus­lims, who have been bru­tal­ized since 2012 by se­cu­rity forces and zealots among the Bud­dhist ma­jor­ity in western Myan­mar.

More than 1,000 Ro­hingya have been killed, while some 320,000 are living in squalid camps in Myan­mar and neigh­bor­ing Bangladesh, ac­cord­ing to es­ti­mates by the U.S.-based Hu­man Rights Watch and the United Na­tions. Thou­sands more em­barked on per­ilous sea voy­ages to other South­east Asian coun­tries.

Af­ter a new wave of vi­o­lence and hu­man­i­tar­ian cri­sis erupted last week, with eth­nic Ro­hingya mil­i­tants at­tack­ing po­lice posts and leav­ing 12 se­cu­rity per­son­nel and 77 Ro­hingya Mus­lims dead, her of­fice said mil­i­tary and bor­der po­lice had launched “clear­ance op­er­a­tions.” She her­self con­demned the mil­i­tants for what she called “a cal­cu­lated at­tempt to un­der­mine the ef­forts of those seek­ing to build peace and har­mony in Rakhine state.”

As usual, she did not ad­dress the in­sur­gents’ counter-al­le­ga­tions — that the at­tacks were aimed at pro­tect­ing Ro­hingya vil­lagers from “in­ten­si­fied atroc­i­ties” per­pe­trated by “bru­tal sol­diers.”

“The vi­o­lence against the Ro­hingya is not an iso­lated event,” says Stella Naw, an an­a­lyst from the eth­nic Kachin mi­nor­ity fo­cus­ing on na­tional rec­on­cil­i­a­tion. “We know the game the army is play­ing. But as a politi­cian elected by the peo­ple, she is ac­count­able for her in­ac­tion and fail­ure to con­demn the army.”

Suu Kyi’s gov­ern­ment has banned a U.N. in­ves­ti­ga­tion team from en­ter­ing the af­flicted re­gion, and ear­lier this month re­jected the world body’s as­ser­tion that the regime’s ac­tions “very likely” amounted to crimes against hu­man­ity and eth­nic cleans­ing. The Fe­bru­ary re­port al­leged se­cu­rity forces had per­pe­trated mass killings, hurled chil­dren into fires and gang raped Mus­lim women. The gov­ern­ment has mostly blamed the latest round of blood-let­ting on Is­lamist mil­i­tants. Suu Kyi’s of­fi­cial Face­book page last year flashed a mes­sage read­ing “Fake Rape.”

“We don’t have a sec­ond choice. Peo­ple still sup­port her party and gov­ern­ment. Peo­ple must lower their ex­pec­ta­tions be­cause the prob­lems are so deeply rooted,” says Thant Thaw Kaung, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the Myan­mar Book Aid and Preser­va­tion Foun­da­tion, an ini­tia­tive to im­prove the coun­try’s woe­ful ed­u­ca­tion sys­tem.

For years, Suu Kyi had coura­geously de­fied the mil­i­tary, suf­fer­ing 15 years of house ar­rest and sep­a­ra­tion from her Bri­tish hus­band and two sons to helm her Na­tional League for Democ­racy to a land­slide vic­tory in 2015 elec­tions. Of­ten re­ferred to as “The Lady,” she re­tains pop­u­lar­ity among the gen­eral pub­lic as the lib­er­a­tor from half a cen­tury of mil­i­tary op­pres­sion.

“When she was in the op­po­si­tion she was so ar­tic­u­late, so vo­cal, but sud­denly now we are faced with si­lence. Now that Myan­mar is back on the demo­cratic path, ev­ery­one ex­pects that there should be more open­ness, but this has not hap­pened,” says Khin Zaw Win, a po­lit­i­cal pris­oner for 11 years who now heads the Tam­padipa In­sti­tute, a civil so­ci­ety think tank.

Since as­sum­ing of­fice in April 2016, Suu Kyi has earned a rep­u­ta­tion for be­ing aloof and con­trol­ling of in­for­ma­tion.

Ex­pla­na­tions for why she’s changed, or fal­tered in uphold­ing pre­vi­ously avowed goals, are starkly dis­parate: she is var­i­ously cast as a tragic hero­ine fight­ing im­pos­si­ble odds, and a closet au­thor­i­tar­ian with a soft spot for the mil­i­tary.

Suu Kyi her­self has of­ten said she in­her­ited an affin­ity for the armed forces from her fa­ther Gen. Aung San, a mil­i­tary hero who fought for in­de­pen­dence from Bri­tain.

Re­flect­ing this puz­zle­ment, a satir­i­cal In­ter­net site called Burma Tha Din Net­work joked that the Suu Kyi in of­fice now was a clone cre­ated by Rus­sian ge­neti­cists hired by Myan­mar’s gen­er­als to re­move her demo­cratic genes, and that the real Suu Kyi was be­ing held by the mil­i­tary and won­der­ing, “How the hell can peo­ple be­lieve I’d do that?”

Per­haps the most wide­spread view is that she sim­ply can’t push her demo­cratic agenda or hu­man rights de­mands, lest the mil­i­tary oust her from power. Although her post as gov­ern­ment leader places her above the pres­i­dent, the mil­i­tary re­tains its grip on three key min­istries con­trol­ling law en­force­ment, local ad­min­is­tra­tion and em­bat­tled fron­tier ar­eas as well as a man­dated 25 per­cent of seats in Par­lia­ment.

“She may shake hands with the mil­i­tary across a ta­ble, but un­der it they are kick­ing her,” says That Thaw Kaung.

Some dis­agree, and say her pop­u­lar man­date gives her the force to chal­lenge the gen­er­als who are un­likely to up­set an ar­range­ment that still al­lows them to wield power with seem­ing im­punity while also be­ing able to blame prob­lems on Suu Kyi’s civil­ian gov­ern­ment.

“The litany, the ex­cuse that is re­peated, ‘Oh, the mil­i­tary is still in pol­i­tics, still dom­i­nates the Con­sti­tu­tion … so we are ham­strung.’ I don’t buy that ar­gu­ment,” says Khin Zaw Win. “She is not a pris­oner of the mil­i­tary.” What is lack­ing, he says, is moral courage in ad­dress­ing hu­man rights and the abil­ity to tackle other prob­lems out­side the power grid of the mil­i­tary, such as the econ­omy. Mean­while, the mil­i­tary is pre­par­ing it­self for the 2020 elec­tions.

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