Sunday’s killing of a Muslim lawyer and member of Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy outside Yangon’s international airport is emblematic of the deepening crisis within. It testifies to the surge in anti-Muslim sentiment that has been sweeping the country, and not merely in Rakhine province, dominated by the persecuted Rohingyas. Ever since the Rohingya issue imploded in the area bordering Bangladesh, Myanmar has been seething with ethnic minority insurgencies and persecution of Muslims, indeed an offensive that is backed by the hardline Buddhist nationalists. Ironically enough, the country has been on the boil despite the change of guard in Naypidaw and the putative transition to a democracy after decades of military rule. Sad to reflect that Suu Kyi has been able to do but little to bring about peace in Rakhine. Her silence before assuming authority was arguably driven by the anxiety not to rock the junta boat. In power ~ though not as President ~ she is yet to respond to the question as to why she is dithering now. Even 24 hours after the killing of her party leader, she has been muted in her response to the crime at an international airport. Rohingya oppression has been stepped up and the killing of Ko Ni marks an offensive against Muslims in Yangon, the nerve-centre of the Buddhist-dominated junta's authority… till the transfer of capital to Naypidaw. A long-time member of the NLD and legal adviser to the party, Ko had often spoken out in favour of religious tolerance and pluralism. Both concepts have been anathema in Myanmar for the past several decades.
Of course, Suu Kyi’s party, NLD, had won a landslide victory in the elections of November 2015; but it needs to be underlined that the “icon of democracy” was circumspect enough not to field any Muslim candidate. Her occasional boast that there are “prominent Muslim leaders in the NLD ranks” has now been reduced to irrelevance after the shots fired at Ko outside the arrival terminal. In the net, this minority segment was consciously excluded from Myanmar’s tryst with electoral democracy as a sop to the Buddhist nationalists. And this would appear to be at the core of the Rohingya tragedy and the anti-Muslim sentiment generally.
In death, NLD’s Ko Ni symbolises that tragedy. Suu Kyi has faced international censure for her failure to criticise an ongoing army crackdown against the Muslim Rohingya minority in western Rakhine state. The treatment of the Rohingyas, a stateless group that has been floundering from port to port in search of refuge, has provoked considerable anger across the Muslim world. The tragedy now extends beyond the group; it is Suu Kyi’s party that has suffered a casualty, one that emits a grave signal. It is time she spoke up.