“We have been struggling for democracy since 1988… We have suffered very much but now we see the results and the fruits of our suffering. It is a beautiful beginning.”
Aung San Suu Kyi and her National League of Democracy (NLD) party finally form the government in Burma/Myanmar. And while there are enormous struggles and questions ahead – including how she will respond to the ethnic minorities who have faced such violence and torture at the hands of the junta, and who have felt let down over the past few years at her relative silence on their situation – it’s worth pausing for a moment to reflect on the enormity of what has been achieved.
Suu Kyi was under house arrest for nearly 15 years till her release in 2010. There are 110 former political prisoners in the 390 candidates elected to both houses of Parliament, many of who spent over two decades in prison. The first time the NLD swept the polls was in 1990, with 81% of the seats. Last year, the NLD took 86% of the seats.
A few years ago, soon after Suu Kyi was released from house arrest, I was with a group of Burmese refugees in Thailand, and they talked about how they (in some ways, literally) worshipped her. For them, far away from their homes, their extended families, and their idol, the sense of betrayal felt greater. I gently pointed out that she was getting older (she’s now 69 years old), and that perhaps in order to gain political power for the NLD, she needed to tread carefully – and in a way that may have felt too much like a compromise to them. And so/yet, here we are. I’m not sure my friends thought they would see this in their lifetimes. I think of them in Chiang Mai, and on the borders between Burma and Thailand, and I hope they are celebrating this victory for justice. However complex and troubled the road ahead may be for Burma and Aung San Suu Kyi, may it be strewn with jasmines for today.