Thursday, June 4, 2009

A Dangerous Experiment

The Irrawaddy News

A judgment will soon be passed down on Daw Aung San Suu Kyi. The timing of the judgment and the sentence will be influenced to some extent by international pressure.

Her arrest and detention have sparked international outrage and even condemnation by Burma’s usually passive neighbors. This show of disgust, anger and disapproval will play a role in what happens next. Indeed, had there been similar sentiments expressed consistently prior to this, Aung San Suu Kyi might not be in such a predicament.

Unfortunately, in recent years the international community has made far too many concessions to the regime and has inexplicably wavered in its commitment to denounce the junta’s illegitimacy.

Burma’s generals took this as a sign that they were getting the international stamp of approval to follow their “seven-step road map to democracy” and that if Suu Kyi stood in their way, then surely the international community would understand that they would have to react.

In my opinion, it is inexplicable that there could be a softening of stance toward the regime. The regime has done nothing whatsoever to advance democracy, freedom, development or human security in our country. The regime's road map has not included anyone outside their clique. The regime even denied humanitarian assistance to reach the hundreds of thousands of people suffering the devastating impact of Cyclone Nargis in May last year.

Yet their voices are in favor of supporting the regime's 2010 election, who suggest that such an election could overcome the political deadlock in the country. And these voices are gaining ground among international diplomats, journalists, academics, UN bodies and international agencies.

In order for the election to go ahead, some have floated the idea of excluding Suu Kyi from the political process, suggesting that she should be “above politics.” These voices have emboldened the regime to take the necessary steps to exclude the NLD leader from the political arena—by arresting her, charging her and sentencing her.

And if these voices alone had not yet persuaded the junta that it was on the right path, the remarks of US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton during her trip to Southeast Asia that the previous US policies on imposing sanctions had not influenced the junta and needed to be reviewed, could only send one message to the regime: that the new US administration would take a softer approach to Burma, and thus the regime could act without fear of repercussions.

I have had personal experience of this "Give the regime a chance!" stance. When the junta announced plans to hold an election, there were those that advised me not to oppose the election and that calling for a boycott of the process would not be a good move, because it was not fashionable.

Then, on 16 May, two days after the junta had made their absurd charges against Suu Kyi and taken her to prison, a participant in the Gwangju International Peace Forum in South Korea criticized the democracy movement in Burma, saying it was dependent on one person.

The moderator at the forum suggested that the Burmese democracy movement accept the election as a step forward in a process of gradual transition.

I was shocked that such views should be aired at a forum that was honoring Min Ko Naing, one of the thousands of people who have dedicated their lives to bringing change to Burma, and shocked that such remarks could be made within two days of the regime bringing trumped up charges against the opposition leader.

I understand of course the frustration that everyone feels; but frustration must not make us act irrationally.

It was frustration that sent John William Yettaw across the lake and it is frustration that says “Let's go along with the regime.” It is frustration that makes us forgets that it is the regime that refuses to engage in dialogue—that it is the regime that has the power to make the transition, but refuses to do anything.

We cannot act out of frustration. We must remain resolute; we must remain logical; we must ensure that the message to the regime is unfaltering—there can be no democracy without the people and therefore the people and their representatives must be part of the process toward democracy.

The verdict that the regime passes down on Daw Aung San Suu Kyi is in effect the verdict bestowed on all those who have weakened their stance against the regime.

It is not an experiment—trying out a tough stance one day, then a soft stance the next. The consequences are further abuse of Suu Kyi, and further abuse of and violence against the people of Burma.

Aung Moe Zaw is chairman of the Democratic Party for a New Society, an opposition group based in exile.

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