Analysis: Myanmar's Suu Kyi shows pragmatism

Published on NewsOK Modified: December 1, 2012 at 1:32 am •  Published: December 1, 2012
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Suu Kyi has urged calm in both crises, but she not attempted to mediate, either.

"When entire communities of Rohingya and Muslims were wiped out in the state-backed ethnic cleansing in Rakhine state .... she didn't even bother to tour the violence-struck" region, said Maung Zarni, a Myanmar expert and visiting fellow at the London School of Economics. "Why not?"

The answer, it seems, is that Suu Kyi has evolved into a pragmatic politician, one who must pursue personal and party goals without upsetting her new relationship with Myanmar's new power brokers, including Thein Sein. The army still wields enormous power in this Southeast Asian nation, and Suu Kyi has argued she must work with them on the path to national reconciliation.

One of the most prominent signs of Suu Kyi's pragmatism has been her failure to speak out strongly against what rights groups say is the widespread repression of the Rohingya minority.

Although she has condemned the recent unrest, she has pointedly refused to take sides, saying violence has been committed by both Buddhists and Muslims.

The Rohingya, though, are among the most persecuted people in the world, largely denied citizenship by Myanmar and rejected by Bangladesh. They have borne the brunt of the recent violence, which Zarni and others argue is part of an effort by ethnic Rakhine to drive Muslims out of the state. The vast majority of the 110,000 displaced are Rohingya, many of whom lost homes in arson attacks.

But Suu Kyi is well aware of her movement's desire to sweep national elections in 2015. The Rohingya are a deeply unpopular cause, and standing up for them is politically risky in a predominantly Buddhist nation where they are widely denigrated as foreigners from Bangladesh, even though many have lived in Myanmar for generations.

In April, Suu Kyi got a taste of the new political world she was entering shortly after her National League for Democracy party won almost all of the several dozen seats up for grabs in the country's historic by-election.

Before taking their seats in the legislature, Suu Kyi's party got embroiled in a major dispute over what they called the undemocratic wording of the oath of office. The party defiantly declared it would not take its seats until the phrasing was changed.

After a weeklong stalemate, Suu Kyi announced they would take the oath anyway and take their seats in a legislature where a quarter of seats are controlled by the army and most of the rest are occupied by retired military officers.

"Politics is an issue of give and take," Suu Kyi said. "We are not giving up. We are just yielding to the aspirations of the people."

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