First published in The Jakarta Post, June 21, 2005
HAPPY BIRTHDAY, AUNG SAN SUU KYI
Alpha Amirrachman, Jakarta
On Sunday, June 19, Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi celebrated her 60th birthday. The Southeast Asian democratic icon whose endless spirit to bring democracy and freedom to her people has galvanized democracy movements internationally, has endured nine of the last 16 years behind bars or under house arrest for campaigning against one of the most brutal military regimes in the world.
The junta's decision to join the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) was stirred by its desire to hide its misdeeds, which have bought misery to the Burmese, behind the banner of ASEAN. The principle of non-interference was seen by the members of the junta as a nice principle that can, at least, give them a sort of impunity.
However, things have changed. One of the ASEAN founding members, Indonesia, has embraced democracy, and the junta must have trembled to see how the military government in Indonesia crumbled because of people power.
The junta has been under intense pressure, and the stubbornness of the generals is infamous. To give Than Shwe a snub as a lesson, it would be good if President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono flatly refused the invitation for him to visit Burma delivered during the last Asian-African conference. A recent visit by Burmese activists should have also pressured the government to take stern attitude against the junta.
Face saving and secure future for the obstinate generals are perhaps a pragmatic way to release Suu Kyi and bring democracy to the impoverished country, as indicated by former prime minister Mahathir Mohamad of Malaysia recently. But a recent showdown within the junta that saw its former prime minister, his sons, and dozens of his followers either interrogated or thrown behind bars shows that things inside the country might already have spiraled out of control. A deadly bombing also indicated that the conflict of political retaliations might color a future Burma.
Above all, democracy is a prerequisite for any reconciliation effort and it would bring a lasting peace to the region. Happy birthday, Suu Kyi!