Aung San Suu Kyi

In the country with a huge number of Buddhist stupas, Aung San Suu Kyi (66 years) strives for democracy. This notion is apparently not new in Burma (Myanmar) as her party, namely National League for Democracy, has been in the political arena for more than two decades. NLD was established on September 27, 1988. The world understands that her party’s struggle is tough: democracy is simply an antithesis to the ideology embraced by the ruling power of military junta. Democracy seems to be identical with freedom, and thus, it conjures the Burmese people. It stirs the people’s mind, and tends to impart some turbulence: people would come down to the streets and speak their mind. Some demonstrations by NLD were non-violent one, but the military junta is definitely not pleased by this kind of instability. Democracy has been causing political and security imbalance. Thus, it should be banished. Military junta knows exactly the root-cause: Suu Kyi’s unyielding enthusiasm is convincingly giving hopes to Burmese people that someday democracy would be established in their country.

On July 20, 1989, the military junta ordered a house arrest for her. She was isolated at her own home without going through proper trials. This is 21st century, but the fair treatment before the law is not everyone’s menu in Myanmar, not even for a prominent political figure like Suu Kyi. The world was then looking at her closely.

On December 10, 1991, she was awarded The Nobel Prize Peace Prize 1991 by the Norwegian Nobel Committee. The underlying reason was clear: for her non-violent struggle for democracy and human rights. But since Suu Kyi was undergoing indefinite house arrest, she was represented by her son, Alexander Aris, who merely turned 18 at that time.

In the acceptance speech, Alexander Aris quoted her mother:

The quest for democracy in Burma is the struggle of a people to live whole, meaningful lives as free and equal members of the world community. It is part of the unceasing human endeavor to prove that the spirit of man can transcend the flaws of his nature.

Her words became seemingly reality on the 1st of April 2012. NLD won almost 100 per cent the seat during the general election at the lower house: 43 out of 44 seats. This is a maiden political victory after the termination of Suu Kyi’s house arrest on November 13th, 2010. And she is then eligible for one seat at the lower house. This victory is, in fact, not the first one for NLD. NLD won 81 per cent of seats in the parliament during 1990 general election, and Suu Kyi was actually eligible to become a Prime Minister of Myanmar. However, military junta immediately imposed a house arrest for her so as to eliminate her participation in the politics. It was roughly ten months after NLD was founded.  Military junta is infamously cruel that even some United Nations envoys were not entirely able to give worldwide pressure for Suu Kyi’s release several years before.

When I lived in Singapore, I often heard complaints from Burmese friends about political situation in Myanmar. Generally, Myanmar’s politics is characterized by repressiveness, instability and corruption. Therefore, some of them did not wish to go back. Furthermore, jobs with sufficient remuneration were not available.

Now, seven years have been passed, and I received an email from my Burmese friend:

We, Burmese people, are very joyful today. This is a victory for all of us!

I share the same joy, and it seems that there is a hope that one democratic country will be born in Southeast Asia. Somehow, I realized that the Suu Kyi’s journey is still far and away. It may be too early to conclude that Myanmar is gradually democratic. But, Burmese people of 58 million may have an elevated hope for her. The prosperous Burma may not be an utopia anymore.

When I lived in Japan, I realize that the relationship between Myanmar and Japan has been there for so long. The relationship between these two was started in the first half of 17th centry. Manrike, a Christian missionary, told in his book that he met a Japanese soldier who served as a bodyguard to the King of Thirithudhamma Raza in 1630.

Few centuries later, Suu Kyi’s father named Colonel Aung San lived in Japan between 1940 and 1941. Aung San, educated in Westernized school, was a pioneer of modern Myanmar. During Aung San’s stay in Japan, he went through a military training along with his twenty nine peers of Burmese nationals. The Japanese trained them for the future supposedly collaboration. When Japan arrived in Myanmar in 1942, they created Burmese Independence Army (BIA). The Japanese helped Burmese people to get rid of British army from Myanmar. On August 1st, 1943, Aung San was appointed as War Minister by Japanese ruler. But he began to disagree with Japanese occupation, and turned against them.

Today, Suu Kyi’s name is even more famous than her father’s. Besides her existence as the only female fighter in ASEAN, she also writes short essay for the national newspaper, The Mainichi Shimbun. Last week, I read through her pieces in essay collection entitled “Letter from Burma”. There are fifty five essays that were written between November 27, 1995, and October 20, 1997. Her essays have personal taste, and tell stories about her struggle, daily activities and about Japan. The column of ‘Letter from Burma’ in Mainichi Shimbun was once halted due to disconnected communication. But, on February 6, 2011, her column continued. Her essays gave a glimpse of idea that Myanmar is a tremendous country. Geographically speaking, Myanmar is strategic: it is located in the vicinity of mainland Asian giants, India and China. I would think that Myanmar can be an ‘economic bridge’ between those countries. Japan’s investment in Myanmar reaches 211.8 billion. Japan exports train, motors, machines, metals and plastic works. On the other side, Myanmar exports livestock, fish, agriculture products, fabrics and mining products.

The country with the highest investment in Myanmar is China, Thailand, Hong Kong and Republic of Korea. These countries possess 80 per cent of foreign direct investment in Myanmar. Indonesia should be able to tap some opportunities in Myanmar as the political stability may be guaranteed when Suu Kyi or her aides can assume the role of prime minister. But two types of homework should be done prior to embarking such avenue.

Firstly, Indonesia along with ASEAN countries should heavily endorse Suu Kyi as Myanmar’s future leader.

Secondly, Indonesia should build stronger bilateral cooperation in order to invest in Myanmar. If this comes true, the dominance of ASEAN + 3 (China – Japan – Korea) can become reality in the next decades.

*Freely translated from my article published in Berita Harian, Singapore