MYANMAR’S ruling junta seems determined to spin a complicated legal web around Aung San Suu Kyi to ensure that the popular leader is not able to participate in politics for a long time to come. The generals have implicated the former state counsellor and democracy activist in a raft of cases ever since overthrowing the elected government led by her in February 2021. The latest charges are linked to renting and buying a helicopter. Ms Suu Kyi is accused of corruption and violating the Official Secrets Act as well as vote fraud. The generals have also convicted her for illegally importing walkie-talkies and violating Covid rules. While some of the charges are clearly laughable, Myanmar’s military rulers seem determined to misuse the law books to keep the civilian leader away from power. It is also true that while there was sustained resistance to the coup early on, now the junta has consolidated its power and is confident that it can ward off challenges to its iron-fisted rule.
While Ms Suu Kyi led a hybrid regime in which the generals maintained the upper hand, it at least presented a semblance of democratic rule. However, wary of the civilians’ growing power, the generals decided to strike, citing ‘irregularities’ in the 2020 elections which were due to bring Ms Suu Kyi’s NLD back to power. Observers, meanwhile, said the polls were mostly fair. Regional efforts to urge the generals to restore democracy have also stalled as Asean, the bloc Myanmar is part of, remains divided over how to proceed on the issue. While the bloc had issued a rare rebuke to the junta, the Cambodian prime minister recently visited Myanmar, helping it break its regional isolation. The fact is that the coup has exacerbated Myanmar’s internal crises. And though the generals will be able to keep a lid on things through the use of force, it is only sustained democracy that can help bring peace and development to this troubled nation, something that Myanmar’s rulers must realise soon.
Published in Dawn, January 20th, 2022