A new era dawns for Myanmar as they elected Htin Kyaw as the country’s first non-military president, since the army took power in a 1962 coup. He, however, dedicated his victory to the leader of the NLP (National League for Democracy) as he addressed the crowd by stating: “This is Aung San Suu Kyi’s victory! I have become President because of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s goodwill and loving kindness”.
Far from just devoting his victory to her, there have been some suggestions that Htin, a close confidante of Suu Kyi, ran for her and will rule as her proxy; as she has vowed to “rule above the President”. She will also be controlling her fair share of executive power as she will be holding the portfolios for foreign affairs, president’s office, education, energy and electric power.
Figure 1 - Htin Kyaw, left, newly elected president of Myanmar; walks with National League for Democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi. (AP Photo/Aung Shine)
The Lady & The Muslim:
In a new biography of Aung San Suu Kyi, written by journalist Peter Popham, it was revealed that she made some off-colour remarks of her interviewer after she pressed her for details about the ethnic cleansing of the Rohingya in Myanmar. The incident, which took place in 2013, described ‘the Lady’ as losing her temper with BBC Today programmer presenter Mishal Husain and muttered off-air: “no one told me I was going to be interviewed by a Muslim”.
Video footage of the interview shows the 70-year-old President of Myanmar’s National League for Democracy refusing to condemn the anti-Islamic sentiment and massacres of Muslims in Myanmar when presented with ample opportunity by Husain. Her response was: "I think there are many, many Buddhists who have also left the country for various reasons. This is a result of our sufferings under a dictatorial regime”.
Figure 2 - Aung San Suu Kyi with Mishal Husain in 2013 for BBC Today. (Photo: BBC)
It would seem that the hope for a democratic Myanmar that Aung San Suu Kyi’s freedom had promised has slowly diminished. The excitement that had come along with the reforms in Myanmar has clearly not been as progressive as the people would have expected. Especially from a Nobel Peace prize winner who was, quite literally, caricaturised as Democracy upon her release from house arrest after 15 years.
Suu Kyi’s silence on the issue of the Rohingya plight has been resounding, as has her refusal to answer certain questions by journalist Mishal Husain with a straight answer. She fumbled over the ‘historical placement’ of the ‘problem’ by describing the Rohingya situation as a “new problem, linked to old problems that arose last year”. Additionally, she also refused to acknowledge the ethnic cleansing of the Rohingya and chose to point out that many Buddhists have also left and that there are many “integrated moderate Muslims”.
By berating her staff for not informing her of the journalist’s religion, she is reducing Mishal to just her religion; implying that she was only asked those questions because Mishal happens to share the same faith as the Rohingya and insinuating that Kyi was, therefore, unfairly asked those questions. This, however, could be considered as part of the Burmese culture where people often identify themselves ethno-religiously and are expected to represent their communities accordingly. However, this does not explain her committed silence on the continued oppression of the Rohingya, rather, it is indicative of her personal limitations and prejudices; regardless of how big of a shadow she may cast in the international sphere. By stating that there are “some moderate integrated Muslims”, she is painting the whole Rohingya community as extremists who deserve the treatment they receive because of their lack of moderate behaviour and their obvious refusal to integrate into society.
Her dismissal of the Rohingya plight is indicative of the political climate in which the Rohingya are being openly ethnically cleansed in a society that has long been ethno-religiously divided. Ultimately, Aung San Suu Kyi is a product of her racist society, and her persistent silence on this issue will not brush the number of dead under the carpet. She must work towards meaningful reform if she is to tackle the long-rooted violence towards the Rohingya people.