“Please use your freedom to promote ours” was Aung San Suu Kyi’s famous plea to the outside world during her years under house arrest in Burma. But now that the opposition leader and heroine of freedom has gained her liberty and taken a seat in the Burmese Parliament, ethnic minorities have expressed their disappointment with her use of freedom to promote theirs.
Despite Aung San Suu Kyi being from the ruling ethnic majority, the Burmans, she has been the symbol of unity for the country‘s multiple ethnic groups. Her unwavering principles earned her a place amongst rights advocates such as Nelson Mandela and Martin Luther King. Now it seems that transitioning from locked-up activist to politician has taken its toll on Suu Kyi’s popularity.
In June this year, Suu Kyi asked the international community to be cautiously optimistic about lifting sanctions and returning to investment, saying that ethnic conflict such as the ongoing fight of the Kachin people for autonomy must be resolved before Burma can continue its development. However, over the last month, the Kachin have become increasingly frustrated with Suu Kyi‘s silence on the ongoing civil war between the Kachin Independence Army and Burmese forces. They claim that due to claimed political reforms, the Burmese government is facing less criticism from the international community allowing the military to continue the violence against the Kachin people without condemnation from abroad.
Suu Kyi has also remained silent about the persecution of the Rohingya people in Rakhine State. For the past three decades, the Rohingya have faced brutal violence and human rights violations from the hands of the Burmese military and the Buddhist population. Thein Sein, Burma‘s President, has labelled the Rohingya as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh, despite their existence in Burma for generations. They have been denied Burmese citizenship, rendering them stateless.
Why is Suu Kyi staying silent about this violence against ethnic minorities?
As she said herself, “It is not the power that corrupts but fear. Fear of losing power corrupts those who wield it.” Suu Kyi is now a politician and taking a stand on controversial issues might bring the loss of the power she has gained. Expressing support for ethnic minorities could alienate her political allies who are opposed to the Muslim minority staying in the country.
With her priority to win a Parliamentary majority in the 2015 elections, Suu Kyi needs the votes of the Buddhist population. To appeal to this base and to maintain her position in Parliament, Suu Kyi has to pick her battles with the current government.
Other than pleasing the international community, Suu Kyi has little to gain and everything to lose by speaking out for the ethnic minorities at the moment. However, Given that the "minorities" are actually 60% of the population, is this really a path to peace?
Is Suu Kyi all we had hoped for?