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Opposition divided two years after

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 
reduced form. 

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