This content is not available in your region

Aung San Suu Kyi: the face of Myanmar's struggle

Aung San Suu Kyi: the face of Myanmar's struggle
Text size Aa Aa

She is the face of Myanmar’s struggle for democracy.

But Aung San Suu Kyi has paid a huge personal price for her convictions. For two decades the military regime that she has tried peacefully to bring down has done what it can to deprive her of her freedom.

By keeping her under house arrest, the junta can prevent her actively campaigning for her party, the National League for Democracy. That she is permitted just house arrest owes much to the status of her father, Burmese national hero General Aung San.

He led negotiations with the British for the independence of Burma, as Myanmar was then called. But in the summer of 1947, just six months before independence was officially declared, he was assassinated. His daughter was two years old.

Aung San Suu Kyi went on to study philosophy, politics and economics at Oxford, where she met her future husband. Then in 1988 after decades spent abroad she returned to Burma to care for her sick mother. She found a country in turmoil.

Thousands of protesters were in the streets demanding political reform but the army cracked down on dissenters.

Inspired by her father, she turned to politics and non-violent demonstrations against the military leadership.

Despite her frequent periods of house arrest, her party won elections in 1990 but the army overturned the result.

Five years later, and by now a Nobel Peace Prize laureate, she was given the chance to leave Myanmar to see her husband and two children. But knowing she might never be allowed back into her native country she decided to stay.

Faced with fresh pro-reform protests in 2002, the regime decided to keep her detained at home and prolong her sentence year after year.

Last year during a visit from a senior junta official, she repeated her offer of co-operation between the army and her party. But some believe this is not possible and that the junta will never risk releasing her.

That is the analysis of Dr. Muang Zarni, an exiled dissident and researcher at the London School of Economics.

“As long as Aung San Suu Kyi walks the streets of the Burmese cities, there’s always a possibility that she will find herself in a situation where she can mobilise the public opinion against the regime. That is actually something that cannot be discounted,” he says.

Throughout her 20-year battle, Aung San Suu Kyi has been recognised and celebrated across the world as an example of the power of the powerless. But the prize she really seeks, democracy in Myanmar, still eludes her.