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Opposition divided two years after
- Subject: Opposition divided two years after
- From: ausgeo@xxxxxxx
- Date: Thu, 10 Jul 1997 17:36:00
Subject: Opposition divided two years after Daw Aung San Suu Kyi's release
Asia Times News
Opposition divided two years after Daw Aung San Suu Kyi's release
Stephen Brookes, Yangon, 10th July 1997
On Thursday, two years will have passed since the release of Myanmar
opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi from house arrest, but analysts in Yangon
say the pro-democracy movement today appears to be increasingly in disarray,
suffering from increased pressure from the government, dwindling membership,
divisions in its own leadership and no clear strategy for improving its
Suu Kyi herself is said to be in ill health, suffering from a gastric ulcer
and a bad fall down the stairs of her Yangon home on May 21. While most
observers say her condition is not serious, one well-informed source in Yangon
describes it as "grave", and Suu Kyi is thought to be resting in preparation
for her next public appearance on Martyr's Day, July 19.
Pressure on Suu Kyi and the National League for Democracy (NLD) has been
growing steadily since late last year, when the ruling State Law and Order
Restoration Council (SLORC) began imposing tighter restrictions on the group's
activities. A planned party congress in September 1996 was undermined when 559
NLD members and supporters were detained, though the meeting went on in
University Avenue, where Suu Kyi's compound is located, was barricaded shortly
afterward, and her weekend addresses to supporters moved to an intersection
about a kilometer away. Suu Kyi was on her way to one of these on November 9
when her motorcade was violently attacked by hundreds of young men, apparently
with government collusion. One top NLD official was slightly wounded in the
The attack seemed to mark a turning point in the NLD's approach to SLORC. The
weekend speeches ended, and Suu Kyi began appearing in public less and less
frequently. Required to submit her plans to her government security personnel
before leaving her compound, she refused, leading to charges that she had been
placed under "virtual house arrest". University Avenue closed off again in
December, and has still not been reopened to the public.
Other rank-and-file NLD members are also coming under pressure. Several
prominent party members have been arrested and sentenced to jail terms in the
past eight months, and dozens of NLD resignations have featured prominently in
the state-controlled press. Meanwhile, attacks against Suu Kyi continued in
the media, where she was accused of being a tool of unnamed neo-colonialist
"The attack on her motorcade may have been a cobra strike," said one analyst
in Yangon. "But the real pressure has been more like an anaconda," he said,
referring to the species of snake that slowly squeezes its prey to death.
One Asian diplomat in Yangon suggested that Suu Kyi had made a major strategic
miscalculation by taunting SLORC and underestimating its determination to
maintain political control. "If she thought that SLORC was acting out of
weakness," said the diplomat, "then she was wrong."
SLORC has met other political challenges in a similar fashion. Following a
series of mild student protests in December, the government shut down the main
universities and some of the high schools, and has yet to reopen them. It also
brought about a dozen light tanks into Yangon, parking six of them in front of
City Hall for several months.
As the government pressure increased, divisions within the NLD were starting
to emerge as well, with one group calling for more pragmatic strategies for
dealing with the government; two NLD dissidents were expelled from the party
in January. Another NLD convention called in May was also undermined by the
government, with hundreds of supporters detained.
The country's pro-democracy forces received a morale boost in April, when the
United States announced it would impose economic sanctions against Myanmar.
Sanctions had been the NLD's central weapon in forcing political change. But
once imposed, the sanctions quickly petered out. They had little actual
impact, and left the US - perhaps Suu Kyi's most important supporter - with no
more leverage against SLORC.
Even as Western pressure mounted - the European Union withdrew trading
preferences, visa restrictions were imposed by several countries, and boycotts
and "selective purchasing" laws were passed in a number of US cities and
states - SLORC's diplomatic position in Asia seemed to be solidifying.
Myanmar's bid to enter the Association of Southeast Asian Nations was agreed
to in May, and the country is scheduled to become a full member at the end of
this month - something which the NLD had fought vigorously against.
Moreover, the NLD's appeal for the outside world to withhold support for SLORC
may have had a backlash effect. Suu Kyi called on tourists to boycott Visit
Myanmar Year, told foreign investors to stay away and supported boycott
movements and economic sanctions. SLORC has turned those positions against
her, arguing in the state media that she and the NLD have damaged the
country's economy, destroying jobs and hurting workers.
Analysts in Yangon were skeptical that the NLD would be able to bring its goal
of dialogue with the SLORC any closer to reality over the coming year. "SLORC
knows that time is on its side," said one observer. "Its position is getting
stronger, while the NLD's gets weaker. So it probably won't change. And the
NLD seems unwilling to change, even though its strategy does not appear to be