Updated: December 8, 2021 9:37:49 am
Ten months after her arrest, Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi was held guilty of “incitement” and violations of Covid 19 restrictions and sentenced to four years imprisonment on Monday. Numerous cases have been filed against Suu Kyi since the junta staged a coup and detained her along with other leaders of the National League for Democracy (NLD), which won a national election in 2020, in February. The conviction suggests that the Tatmadaw, the military establishment, is plotting a political future for Myanmar without Suu Kyi. The court order sparked violence across Myanmar, suggesting that the deposed leader is the most popular political figure in the country. However, the junta has made it clear that it will not bow to street mobilisations or international pressure: On Sunday, an army vehicle drove into a peaceful pro-democracy march in Yangon, killing three persons.
The junta may be exploring a return to a guided democracy or even a pre-2015 situation, when it dominated the administration. In the past few days, the military has reportedly held talks with the second rung of the NLD leadership. Despite international agencies calling the Suu Kyi trial a sham, the military has proceeded against her, seemingly with the intent to force her out of any prospective political solution. Though Suu Kyi has been the face of Myanmar’s defiance against the Tatmadaw for years, because of her family legacy as well as her non-violent resistance against the junta rule, her image as an icon of democracy was tarnished by her record in office. Her endorsement of the genocidal military action against Rohingya Muslims, including at the International Court of Justice, The Hague, turned most of her international supporters against her. Rather than speak up for an inclusive Myanmar or fight to expand the democratic space, she tried to placate the junta by condoning the suppression of free speech and civil rights as well as the crony capitalism that the military has been allegedly patronising. Yet, the military brass, soon after the NLD won the 2020 election with an enhanced majority, chose to dislodge her from office and discredit her politically. The junta may obtain more convictions in court, but none of that is likely to dent Suu Kyi’s national popularity or lend credibility to the coup.
The civil society in Myanmar has refused to be cowed down by the military crackdown and has been openly protesting the coup. The pro-democracy sentiment has moved beyond Suu Kyi; it may not be easy for the junta to reverse a process that began in 1988 when the people first rose against military rule.
This editorial first appeared in the print edition on December 8, 2021 under the title ‘Trial and error’.