As the Republic of the Union of Myanmar, also known as Burma, moves toward its first general election since the major reforms of 2011, one cannot help but focus in on the extraordinary efforts of Aung San Suu Kyi. She has spent most of the last two decades in some sort of imprisonment because of her opposition to the military-ruled state and at the age of 70 she continues to fight for democracy. Her face has become an international symbol for peaceful resistance despite consistent threats of violence and oppression of her government. Her winning of the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991 is a testament to her struggle. During that year she was held under house arrest and forbidden from traveling to Norway to receive the award.
Aung San Suu Kyi, also known as “the Lady” colloquially, has ensured that her party is represented in the nation’s political process. Although she is barred from running for president due to the Myanmar constitution stating it is illegal for “former criminals” as well as individuals who have married none nationals (Suu Kyi’s husband is English), there has been major pressure on the current governing body to reform. Currently Aung San Suu Kyi is a member of parliament after her political party, the National League for Democracy (NLD), won a landslide victory in 2010 but current progresses is not enough. Her struggle has spanned over 20 years beginning in 1988 with her return to Burma.
Born in Myanmar, Aung San Suu Kyi always understood the political strife that took place within her nation. In 1947 her father, General Aung San, was assassinated while holding the defacto position of Minister of Burma. After his death, her mother, Daw Khin Kyi, and her moved to India. Her mother was appointed Myanmar’s ambassador to Delhi. Suu Kyi graduated from the University of Oxford in 1969 and married an English man shortly after. She settled for a time in the UK with her husband and two children, but in 1988 Suu Kyi decided to return to Burma to take care of her sickly mother. During this time the nation was undergoing a great deal of political conflict. The population rallied in support of democratic reform and Suu Kyi soon became the leader of the revolts. Through non-violent campaigning for free elections, she gained support throughout the country and abroad. However these demonstrations were violently halted by the army lead government and Aung San Suu Kyi was placed under house arrest.
Throughout the next few years her detention was unjustly expanded and any release was followed by arrests five to one year later. Despite this, Aung San Suu Kyi’s NLD won the 1990 May election, which was a right denied to both her and her party due to her house arrest. The military junta has remained in control of the nation since.
Each instance of arrest of Suu Kyi was different, with the 1989 to 1995 arrest being the most difficult. Held in solitary confinement, she was denied contact with her two sons and husband. Her husband died of cancer in March of 1999 but she was unable to visit him in the UK for fear she would not be allowed back into the country. Suu Kyi was imprisoned for a second time in 2000 after attempting to travel to the city of Mandalay, which was against her probation. In 2002 she was released only to be imprisoned a year later after her supporters clashed with a government-backed mob. She was released in November of 2010 and allowed to visit her son for the first time in a decade.
In her own words Aung San Suu Kyi describes the reforms of 2010 as well as the 2012 elections, which was a massive success for the NLD as, the “beginning of a road.” She acknowledges that the quest for democracy is not over in Burma, but continues to peacefully protest, reform and lead throughout the nation. Her patience and consistency is an inspiration and as the November’s general election draws closer, the world watches and waits, for the legacy of Aung San Suu Kyi to continue.
Featured image: Simon Davis/DFID