November 12, 2011

AUNG SAN SUU KYI: CHANGE IN TACTICS OR COLOURS?

B.RAMAN

Slowly and steadily, the Army-propped civilian regime in Myanmar headed by President TheinSein and Aung San SuuKyi, the democracy icon, are coming to terms with each other to avoid a confrontation and to pave the way for a Government, which would enjoy her support from outside, if not association, and thereby enjoy a greater credibility in the eyes of the people.

2. The Government has not imposed any restrictions on her travels outside Yangon. Despite this, she has been avoiding any travels, in an attempt not to create any embarrassing law and order situation for the Government. The change ---whether in her tactics or attitude to the Government--- figured in a question posed to her during her weekly radio interview on November 8,2011.Her reply was interesting.

3.She said: “ I would like to clarify that it is not true that I have made trips around the country whenever I was released from house arrest. In 1995 and in 2000, when I was released for the second time, I never made trips around the country, because of restrictions. Between 2002 and 2003, I did make trips around the country. But this time, since my trip to Pegu, although I have thought about making trips around the country I have been unable to do so because there is a lot of work to be done in Rangoon. Plans have already been made for the NLD to distribute rice to the flood victims as much as possible. I think that it would be better to distribute rice in this manner than to spend money to travel across the country.”

4. Similarly, questions are being asked by sections of the people as to why she is not opposing the construction of the gas pipeline from the Arakan area to Yunnan in China. She had strongly opposed on environmental grounds the construction of a big hydel project by a Chinese company in the Kachin State. Her opposition combined with the opposition from the Kachin leaders and people forced the Government to suspend the project, leading to protests from Beijing.

5. The gas pipeline project too is being opposed by the local people on various grounds such as payment of inadequate compensation for the land acquired for the project , taking the gas away to China instead of utilising it for the benefit of the local people and environmental damage. Despite this, she has not been as active in opposing the gas pipeline project in the Arakan area as she was in opposing the hydel project in the Kachin State.

6.She was asked about it during her weekly radio interview of October 28. In another interesting reply, she said: “Although one cannot say that a nationwide boycott (of the pipeline project) could not happen, I don’t think it would be easy. But it is necessary for the whole country, including the government, to be aware of matters that are really giving trouble to the people. Only then will we be able to find solutions to such issues. However, while we are protecting the interests of the people, we must at the same time be aware of—and take care to maintain—good relations with our neighbouring countries.”

7. The gas pipeline being constructed is more important to the Chinese than the suspended hydel project. It is designed to carry not only gas found locally, but also gas brought from the Gulf by Chinese tankers in order to reduce the Chinese dependence on the Malacca Strait. SuuKyi has been avoiding any opposition to the gas pipeline project lest it add to the difficulties already being faced by the Government in its relations with China after the suspension of the hydel project.

8. In carefully calibrated steps, she and the Government have been trying to pave the way for her election to the Parliament, which seems to be the present priority of both.An amendment to the law on political parties, endorsed by President TheinSein on November 4, removed the condition that all parties must agree to "preserve" the country's 2008 constitution.

9.In a significant interview to the “Yangon Times”, KhinAungMyint, the Speaker of the Parliament, who used to be the Director of Public Relations and PSYWAR in the Ministry of Defence, was quoted as saying: “I recognize the result of the 1990 election, which the NLD won with a vast majority of the votes.The results cannot be reversed and I have no intention to do so.”

10.On November 8, a spokesman of her party the National League For Democracy (NLD) announced after a meeting at her residence in Yangon that more than 100 senior members of the party would meet at Yangon on November 18 to decide whether, in view of the change introduced by the Government, the NLD should re-register itself as a political party. Though he did not say so, its re-registration would make it, including SuuKyi, eligible to stand for election to the Parliament. The speculation is that there is already an unwritten understanding between her and the President that a bye-election would be held before the year-end in which she could be elected.

11. What one has been seeing is a recognition of the victory of her Party in the 1990 elections by the Government. In return, she has agreed not to question the validity of last year’s elections to the present Parliament under the supervision of the Army. The NLD has apparently agreed to end its boycott of the present Parliament and the Government has agreed to pave the way for the election of some NLD leaders, including SuuKyi, to the Parliament.

12. What then: Will SuuKyi and her party work from outside the Government or will they join the Government? An answer to this question is not yet available. She said in her November 8 radio interview: “If the people are active and enthusiastic, the government will also become active and the country will develop. If all of you are active in this manner, the road toward political change will be smooth, and our cooperation will be more effective.”

13. Co-operation and national reconciliation and not political confrontation seems to be her objective. As part of this, she is prepared not to create any more difficulties for the Government in Myanmar’s relations with China. It is clear that she does not want to support the movement of the people of the Arakan region against the Chinese gas pipeline to Yunnan and the construction of a modern port at Kyaukpu to transport gas brought by Chinese tankers from the Gulf to Yunnan. (12-11-11)

( The writer is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai, and Associate of the Chennai Centre For China Studies. E-mail: seventyone2@gmail.com . Twitter: @SORBONNE75 )

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