Aung San Suu Kyi, Daw

Aung San Suu Kyi, Daw
   (1945- )
   Daughter of Aung San, Aung San Suu Kyi is one of the founders of the National League for Democracy (NLD) and the most prominent leader of the post-1988 democracy movement. Born in Rangoon (Yangon) on June 19, 1945, she was the second of three children of Aung San and his wife Daw Khin Kyi. She was only two when her father was assassinated on July 19, 1947. After her mother was appointed Burma's ambassador to India in 1961, she lived most of her life abroad, until 1988. She obtained a degree in philosophy, politics, and economics from Oxford University; worked for the United Nations in New York; and married a British scholar of Tibet, Michael Aris, in 1972. Subsequently, they lived in Bhutan, London, Oxford (where Dr. Aris was a fellow at St. John's College), and India, and Daw Suu Kyi spent some months in 1985-1986 at Kyoto University doing research on her father's wartime relations with the Japanese. Her life, including raising two sons, was very private; during this time, she did not become actively involved in her country's politics.
   The illness of her mother brought her to Rangoon in April 1988, but she refrained from playing a role in the momentous events of that year until August 15, when she sent a letter to the government urging political compromise and deploring the use of arms by the Tatmadaw against peaceful demonstrators. On August 26, she made her first major political speech at the western entrance to the Shwe Dagon Pagoda, an event that drew hundreds of thousands of Rangoon citizens. Her eloquence and her resemblance to her father in both words and appearance made her instantly popular. Rivals, such as Aung Gyi, dismissed her as a neophyte and influenced by underground communists. But in her role as secretary general of the NLD, campaigning up and down the country during late 1988 and early 1989, she was largely responsible for winning the popular support reflected in the party's landslide victory in the General Election of May 27, 1990, despite the fact that she was barred from running for a seat in the Pyithu Hluttaw and placed under house arrest in July 1989. Frank in her speech and courageous to the point of death (once facing down armed soldiers during a NLD campaign trip), she had become a leader in her own right, quite apart from her connection with the universally respected Aung San.
   She remained confined at her residence on University Avenue under house arrest for just under six years, from July 20, 1989 to July 10, 1995, largely cut off from the outside world (except for a radio) and from her family, and suffered some physical hardship. Much of the time she spent in reading and meditation. In 1991, she was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in recognition of her nonviolent struggle for democracy. The regime's decision to release her on July 10, 1995, seems to have been based in part on the belief that six years of house arrest had marginalized her. But the popularity of "public forums" that she held outside her residence (until they were closed down in November 1996) and the universal respect she commanded both at home and abroad showed that she was a more formidable opponent of the State Law and Order Restoration Council (SLORC) than ever.
   The period from November 1995, when she withdrew the National League for Democracy from the National Convention constitutiondrafting process, branding it undemocratic, to a second term of house arrest beginning in September 2000, was a time of tense and confrontational relations with the SLORC (renamed the State Peace and Development Council [SPDC] in late 1997). She aroused the generals' ire by supporting the imposition of economic sanctions by Western countries and the continued freeze on overseas development assistance to the SLORC/SPDC, and urged an international boycott of "Visit Myanmar Year," the regime's campaign in 1996-1997 to raise revenue through tourism. The regime responded by calling her an "axe handle" (tool) of foreign, neocolonial powers, a traitor to her race for marrying an Englishman, and a power-hungry witch, as depicted in childishly tasteless cartoons in the state-run New Light of Myanmar (Myanmar Alin) newspaper in the late 1990s. All this abuse did little to undermine the esteem in which she was held by her compatriots and abroad, though some critics argued, not always with disinterested motives, that she was too confrontational and unschooled in Burmese cultural values.
   Her second term of house arrest-arising from her insistence on visiting NLD offices outside Rangoon, which the regime wished to prevent-lasted from September 2000 until May 6, 2002. In January 2001, the special envoy of the United Nations Secretary-General to Burma, Razali Ismail, announced that Daw Suu Kyi and the SPDC had begun secret talks, aimed at confidence building, as the preliminary step toward reaching a peaceful political accommodation. After her release, she was given unprecedented freedom to travel around the country and meet with local NLD members, and she seemed to have toned down her criticism of the SPDC. At the end of 2002, however, there was no indication that the military regime was willing to undertake serious political dialogue with her. Following the "Black Friday" Incident of May 30, 2003, in which she and her supporters were attacked by pro-junta mobs in Sagaing Division, Aung San Suu Kyi was imprisoned and then placed under a third term of house arrest.

Historical Dictionary of Burma (Myanmar). . 2014.

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