The clock has been turned back in Myanmar. Monday’s conviction of Aung San Suu Kyi is in effect a severe blow to democracy, the cause for which she had fought for the past three decades, denied power despite spectacular electoral victories.
In the net, the junta and the GHQ in Naypidaw have entrenched their positions further still. The triumph at the hustings has repeatedly yielded no dividend and decidedly spurious has been the democratic essay. The year that began with her ouster in a de facto coup in February is about to end with Monday’s verdict that has pronounced a four-year sentence ~ albeit truncated to two years ~ for what the court perceives to be “incitement to violence” and violation of Covid restrictions. Small wonder that the judgment has been stoutly condemned by the international community.
The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, has swiftly described the judicial proceedings as “contrived”. It was the first in a series of cases brought against Suu Kyi since her arrest on 1 February, the day the military seized power and prevented her National League for Democracy (NLD) from beginning a second term in office. The cases have been widely binned and are clearly intended to discredit her and bar her from contesting in the next election.
There has already been a spirited demand in the United States of America for her release. “The regime’s continued disregard for the rule of law and its widespread use of violence against the people underscore the urgency of restoring Myanmar’s path to democracy,” has been the response of Secretary of State Antony Blinken.
Not surprisingly, China, which maintains cordial relations with Myanmar’s military brass and is no stranger to such excess, declined to criticise the verdict. However, the government in Beijing hopes that “all parties in Myanmar will bear in mind the longterm interests”.
On Monday, Suu Kyi faced an incitement charge that centred on statements posted on NLD’s Facebook page. Other party leaders had also been detained by the military. She was accused of spreading false and inflammatory data that could disturb public order. She was also accused of violating Covid restrictions because she had appeared at a campaign event.
She and her NLD have been dealt a crippling political blow by the judicial offensive. It would be no exaggeration to suggest that the cantonment has arrogated to itself all powers of the state. Whether in uniform or the longyi, generals will continue to call the shots, secure in China’s support and unfettered by an effete Asean.
The plot thickens as the verdict stipulates Suu Kyi will be detained at an undisclosed location. The secrecy is almost incredible. And irreversible will be the eclipse of democracy, unless continued protests by Myanmar’s civil society succeed in showing the military the error of its ways.