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Message of an icon free at last

The Straits Times
Singapore, Monday 15 November 2010

The joy with which Daw Aung San Suu Kyi's supporters everywhere greeted her release from house arrest on Saturday (13 November 2010) was as spontaneous and enthusiastic as the junta-staged elections last week were not.

In riposte to the regime's obvious public relations move to blunt domestic and international demands, Suu Kyi's reception spoke in the authentic voice of freedom, not in the flawed lingo of pretend polls that belied the ruling generals' appetite for power.

The people made abundantly clear again whom they wanted as their leader, as if there was ever any doubt on that score since Suu Kyi's landslide electoral victory two decades ago. She has been released twice before, in 1995 and 2002, only to be re-arrested. If the regime were to repeat that trajectory, there is no predicting the reaction.

Even amid currently unpromising political realities for the opposition, her public reappearance holds promise for real change though the outcome is far from certain.

The first words Suu Kyi uttered above the cheers of the crowd on Sunday (14 November 2010) were Mandela-esque: "People must work in unison. Only then can we achieve our goal."

If indeed there are no restrictive conditions to her release, she needs to work quickly to heal the divisions that have emerged within her own movement. However, she should also not miss the opportunity of the moment to extend a conciliatory hand to the government once again, despite its harsh treatment of her and her National League for Democracy.

Corruption, economic mismanagement and human rights abuse have brought misery to the land. Far from dealing with the opposition from a position of strength, the regime should know that it risks facing a greater uprising than the one three years ago, when red-robed monks led street protests. The threat from restive ethnic minorities would be even more difficult to manage. Most of these groups, having engaged for decades in armed struggle for autonomy from central rule, saw through the electoral farce and refused to take part. The military is growing increasingly less confident that it can defeat so many ethnic guerillas on their home turf.

If conditions worsen, Suu Kyi could emerge as the only figure who can command enough trust and respect to hold the nation together. It is not in the interest of its giant neighbours, China and India, nor of its fellow Asean members, to see Burma break up, with instability sure to affect everyone. So Suu Kyi's message of unity should resonate more widely, even as regional pressure has to be kept up to move the junta towards compromise and reconciliation.

Asia News Network

MySinchew 2010-11-15


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