Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Dr Muang Zarni: Here's how this court ordeal can be turned to her advantage

(Independent UK) - Aung San Suu Kyi is already presumed guilty in the eyes of her captors. Her Kafkaesque trial offers her one opportunity however: a rare media platform to present her side of the story.

Instead of focusing on the legal defence, her lawyers should help her to transform this farcical trial into a semi-public venue wherein she articulates her democratic vision for the Burmese people; to reconnect with her political base and convey a strategic message to the international community.

Burma today is not under the rule of law, but rather under the maniacal dictatorship of Senior General Than Shwe. He alone makes all crucial executive and judicial decisions in a manner that befits an 18th-century monarch informed only by astrology, sycophantic advisers and Machiavellian calculations.

Than Shwe is also known for his extreme hatred of Aung San Suu Kyi, the most formidable of all Burmese dissidents, who remains unbroken in spirit, despite her poor health. Even before the news of "the American intruder", no one really entertained any illusion about her release from house arrest. With her unfading prestige, popularity and international appeal, Aung San Suu Kyi poses the single most symbolic – if not material – threat to Than Shwe's personal delusion of grandeur.

The junta is apparently treating the American intruder incident as a "godsend" for propaganda purposes, proof that the leadership is acting in accordance with the law. However, the regime's decision to try the Burmese icon on the most fictitious charges is outright stupid, irresponsible, and counterproductive.

It conveniently overlooks the fact that it was the military government itself which failed to provide its most famous captive full security in her home, a virtual prison for 13 of the past 19 years.

The Obama administration meanwhile, was reportedly looking for a way to re-engage with the military and perhaps even recognise the generals as legitimate stakeholders in Burmese national politics. Instead, news of the junta trying Aung San Suu Kyi on trumped-up charges has recaptured the world's imagination, highlighted the heinous character of the Burmese regime, and re-united the fractured Burmese opposition. Her military captors have unwittingly helped build her political capital as a powerful moral and political icon.

Aung San Suu Kyi and her colleagues must seize this trial as a rare opportunity to revive a popular message of hope, addressing not just democracy and human rights, but also the survival concerns of ordinary Burmese. They should suggest ways for the international community to engage with Burmese people and civil society, if not the Neanderthal regime.

The author is a research fellow at the London School of Economics and Political Science and the founder of the Free Burma Coalition

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