Myanmar's democratic hope

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Myanmar's democratic hope

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At 66, human rights and democracy defender Aung San Suu Kyi leads the National League for Democracy (or NLD) campaign in Myanmar’s elections. She considers the poll, with all its problems, vital. The opposition candidate has travelled thousands of kilometres in her country, to speak before hundreds of thousands of compatriots.

She has spent 15 years of the past two decades either in prison or under house arrest. Recently released, she considers Myanmar is at a turning point, after many years of dictatorship under a military junta. It may finally be moving towards more representative civilian governance.

Suu Kyi’s father, a general, was also the father of then Burma’s independence from British rule in 1947, after which he was assassinated. She was only two at the time. At 19, she left to earn a degree in philosophy, politics and economics in Britain. In 1972, she married scholar Michael Aris. Although two sons would be born of the marriage, work and then politics meant they lived together very little. Suu Kyi went back to Myanmar 1988. Her mother was ill.

When massive demonstrations for democratic government were violently put down and the army took power, she founded the NLD. She chose house arrest over freedom in exile. Her party won elections in 1990 but amid an international outcry the military refused to hand over power. For her perseverance, she won the Nobel Peace Prize.

Afraid if she left to see her now-ailing husband abroad she would not be allowed home, she did not see him – or her sons. They were refused entry to Myanmar.

In 1999, Michael died of cancer. While she was imprisoned in her house, Suu Kyi was cut off from supporters, international visitors and the media. Only occasional diplomatic and medical visits were allowed.

Briefly released, then rearrested in 2000, and let go again in 2002, the following year a convoy she was in was attacked by a group of paramilitaries in the sway of the junta. She escaped but was then locked away for the next seven years, in spite of international pressure on the regime.

Her non-violent struggle to bring about democracy and the respect of human rights in Myanmar has won her global renown and many awards, as well as reference in popular media. The Nobel committee called Suu Kyi “one of the most extraordinary examples of civil courage in Asia”.