Last modified: 7:58 AM Saturday, 14 January 2017

‘Long overdue,’ indeed

If you lead a political party which wins the national elections, what reward can you expect? If you’re Burmese dissident Aung San Suu Kyi, the answer is 15 of the past 20 years in prison or under house arrest at the hands of the country’s military dictatorship.

Aung San Suu Kyi

Opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi has spent most of her life speaking, with eloquence and wisdom, on behalf of
the voiceless human “water” of Burma.
[ Image Source ]

But now Aung has been fully and unconditionally released at last, and all the world applauds.

If this were a movie, our protagonist would now be swept into the presidential palace at the head of a procession of her people so numerous that the generals would resign without contest. And Aung and her party would rule wisely and justly ever after.

Unfortunately, what has really happened is that the generals have released Aung only because they believe she’s no longer a threat. Elections widely believed fraudulent were “won” by the government, allowing the generals to install a nominal democracy — one, however, in which the military retains decisive power. And it will be difficult for Aung and her allies to mount an effective opposition to these plans because their party declined to contest the elections — whose validity it contested — and is no longer legally regarded as a political organization, leaving Aung as the head of a phantom opposition.

Now all is in the hands of Burma’s people. Will they accept the transparent lie of a “democratic” government covertly controlled by generals? Or will they in earnest take Aung San Suu Kyi on their shoulders and march in resistless numbers to install her as their rightful head of state?

For now, to give you a sense of what Aung has to say, I leave you with an excerpt from perhaps her best-known speech, delivered in 1990:

Freedom From Fear

It is not power that corrupts but fear. Fear of losing power corrupts those who wield it and fear of the scourge of power corrupts those who are subject to it.

Most Burmese are familiar with the four a-gati, the four kinds of corruption. Chanda-gati, corruption induced by desire, is deviation from the right path in pursuit of bribes or for the sake of those one loves. Dosa-gati is taking the wrong path to spite those against whom one bears ill will, and moga-gati is aberration due to ignorance.

But perhaps the worst of the four is bhaya-gati, for not only does bhaya, fear, stifle and slowly destroy all sense of right and wrong, it so often lies at the root of the other three kinds of corruption.

Just as chanda-gati, when not the result of sheer avarice, can be caused by fear of want or fear of losing the goodwill of those one loves, so fear of being surpassed, humiliated or injured in some way can provide the impetus for ill will. And it would be difficult to dispel ignorance unless there is freedom to pursue the truth unfettered by fear.

With so close a relationship between fear and corruption it is little wonder that in any society where fear is rife corruption in all forms becomes deeply entrenched....

The students were protesting not just against the death of their comrades but against the denial of their right to life by a totalitarian regime which deprived the present of meaningfulness and held out no hope for the future.

And because the students’ protests articulated the frustrations of the people at large, the demonstrations quickly grew into a nationwide movement.

Some of its keenest supporters were businessmen who had developed the skills and the contacts necessary not only to survive but to prosper within the system. But their affluence offered them no genuine sense of security or fulfillment, and they could not but see that if they and their fellow citizens, regardless of economic status, were to achieve a worthwhile existence, an accountable administration was at least a necessary if not a sufficient condition.

The people of Burma had wearied of a precarious state of passive apprehension where they were “as water in the cupped hands” of the powers that be....

Originally published as a review of a BBC article on the release of Aung San Suu Kyi.

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