Aung San Suu Kyi to be released days after Burmese election

Junta bans Nobel laureate from standing and deregisters her National League for Democracy, then offers to work with them 'for the betterment of our country'
Aung San Suu Kyi poster
Members of the National Democratic Force put up a poster of Aung San Suu Kyi at the gate to the party's headquarters in Rangoon. Photograph: Khin Maung Win/AP

The most famous name in Burmese politics will not be on any ballot paper this election, but she remains in the hearts and minds of the Burmese people.

Since 1990, when her National League for Democracy humiliated the junta by winning more than 80% of parliamentary seats, Aung San Suu Kyi, has spent a total of 15 years under house arrest or in jail. The Nobel peace laureate and Burma's best-known champion of democracy was never allowed to take power.

New laws written for Sunday's poll exclude her, or anybody serving a custodial sentence, from participating. The NLD called for a boycott and has been deregistered as a political group.

The Lady, as she is known, is due to be released six days after the election, and there is speculation about whether the junta will allow her to leave her home on the banks of Rangoon's Inya lake.

Military officials have been quoted confirming the release date of 13 November. "November will be an important and busy month for us because of the election and because of Aung San Suu Kyi's release," an unnamed official said.

One election candidate, a long-time friend of Aung San Suu Kyi, believes she will be released because the junta has run out of reasons to keep her locked up.

"If they could find just one reason, they would keep her under arrest, because they don't like her, they don't like that the people love her. But will she really be free? Will she be able to meet with her friends, her supporters, can she talk to the media? I don't know," the candidate said.

What role, if any, Aung San Suu Kyi will be allowed to play in Burma's post-election political landscape is unknown. The general secretary of the junta's political wing, the Union Solidarity and Development party, was quoted this week as saying the military would work with anyone interested in fostering progress. "We want to co-operate with [the NLD and Aung San Suu Kyi] for the betterment of our country," U Htay Oo said in the Myanmar Times.

Few observers believe the sentiment is genuine. The anti-junta independent candidate Yuza Maw Htoon, whose grandfather was a colleague of Aung San Suu Kyi's famous father, Aung San, said a democratic Burma needed its most visible champion.

"She needs a place too. We need to be inclusive, we cannot just say to the NLD 'you are out', because they did not participate in this election. Aung San Suu Kyi is in people's hearts, she has suffered for many years for the people, they love and they respect her, and she can help our country."

Aung San, the general who founded Burma's national army during the second world war and who, post-war, later negotiated with Britain for Burma's independence. He never lived to see it. He was assassinated by a political rival in 1947, aged 32. His daughter was two years old.

He remains Burma's most revered hero. His boyish likeness, in full military uniform, is everywhere across the country. In the west, he is known as Aung San Suu Kyi's father. In Burma, she is known as his sondaughter.


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