After years in isolation, Burma’s detained opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi wants to reach out to the world’s youth when released from house arrest—and do so in 140 characters or less. “She told me she wants to use Twitter to get in touch with the younger generation inside and outside the country,” her lawyer, Nyan Win, told reporters after visiting Suu Kyi at her lakeside home last week. “She wishes to be able to tweet every day and keep in touch.”
Microblogging may be a welcome change for the 65-year-old Nobel Peace laureate, who has been placed under house arrest on and off for the majority of the last 20 years by the ruling military junta. Whether she will be able to do so after her impending release on Nov. 13 is questionable. Like many of her countrymen, Suu Kyi has no phone line or access to the Internet, and while she can watch state-run TV, her other news sources are strictly controlled.
Her current detention is set to expire after the ruling regime holds its first election in 20 years on Nov. 7, timing critics say was designed to keep the opposition leader locked away for the vote. Suu Kyi’s staunch pro-democracy stance has always angered the government, whose oppressive policies forbid dissident political parties and underground activist organizations from forming. Burma’s highest court will hear a last-ditch appeal on Oct. 29 to release her, but an early discharge ahead of the vote is unlikely, as courts almost invariably favour the government. Still, although no official announcement has been made, the government is expected to release Suu Kyi after the vote, to satiate outcry from the international community over a sham election that it cannot lose.
Burma, also known as Myanmar, has been under military rule since 1962, when Gen. Ne Win staged a coup d’état and ushered in “the Burmese Way to Socialism” under his Burma Socialist Programme Party, the sole power in the country. The path proved to be rocky. By 1988, the country was rocked by widespread civil unrest over economic mismanagement, political oppression and a desire for democracy. In the middle of that political turmoil, a brief attempt to end military rule and hold multi-party elections resulted in another bloody military coup in September 1988. Since then, the ruling junta has been accused of numerous human rights abuses.
Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy party formed in September 1988, shortly before the military coup. Confident of its chances for success, the junta decided to go ahead with the election that had been promised. The NLD swept that vote, in 1990, with 60 per cent. But the junta refused to hand over power. Now, while the November vote is supposed to be the fifth step in the government’s seven-point transition to “disciplined democracy,” Suu Kyi’s prolonged detention has been seen as a sign of the junta’s true intentions. Her own future remains in doubt; Tomás Ojea Quintana, the UN human rights envoy for Burma, said the country’s political process is “deeply flawed. The conditions do not show that these elections will be inclusive, free and fair. The potential to bring meaningful improvement to the human rights situation in Myanmar remains doubtful.”