Though much is made of Suu Kyi following in the footsteps of her famous father, she is also her mother’s daughter. Khin Kyi was a trailblazer in her own right, serving as the first Minister of Social Welfare in the Burmese cabinet, and then, when named Ambassador to India, as the nation’s first woman to lead a diplomatic mission abroad.
Burma’s beacon of hope for a democratic future
By Rung Chatchaloemwut, Vice President North & Southeast Asia
On May 2, 2012, Aung San Suu Kyi was sworn in as a member of Burma’s parliament, marking a remarkable victory in her 25-year struggle for peace and democracy in her homeland.
Born in 1945, Suu Kyi is the daughter of Aung San, who is credited as the father of modern Burma. Aung San negotiated the country’s independence from Great Britain in 1947, but was tragically assassinated shortly thereafter. Suu Kyi lived in England and the United States until 1988, returning to Burma as the country’s longtime military government was dissolving.
Suu Kyi helped to lead what was known as the 8888 Uprising (it began on August 8, 1988) calling for democratic governance. Unfortunately, the movement was violently repressed and a new junta took power in September of 1988. Suu Kyi was placed under house arrest and told she could have her freedom if she left Burma. She refused.
In 1990, the military junta held a general election. The party Suu Kyi helped to found—the National League for Democracy (NLD)—won 80% of the popular vote, assuring it the majority of parliament’s seats. The junta threw out the results and continued to hold Suu Kyi in captivity, resulting in an international outcry. That same year, Suu Kyi won the Nobel Peace Prize for her commitment to political change through nonviolent means.
For 15 of the past 21 years, Suu Kyi was held under house arrest, with her longest stretch in captivity occurring from May 2003 to November 2010. She was released two years ago after concerted pressure from the American, Japanese, and many European governments, urging democratic reforms. The junta held a general election (in which Suu Kyi was not allowed to participate) a month before her release.
In the two years since Suu Kyi was freed, Burma has been moving towards political reform. Suu Kyi met with the government and negotiated the release of some political prisoners and the legalization of trade unions. The NLD was allowed to re-register as a political party and run in elections for 48 parliamentary seats in 2012. Suu Kyi won her first-ever public office, a seat in the parliament’s lower house, along with an NLD landslide in 45 of 48 contests.
Suu Kyi joined a parliament where a quarter of the seats are reserved for the military, with the vast majority of other seats held by the government-backed ruling party. Still, NLD participation in government is a major step towards democracy in Burma.