Myanmar's Test: Aung San Suu Kyi and the Test of Peaceful Transition | Sojourners

Myanmar's Test: Aung San Suu Kyi and the Test of Peaceful Transition

The Nobel laureate and human rights advocate Aung San Suu Kyi entered the Myanmar Parliament this week, shortly after her party, the National League for Democracy, won the country's first free election in 25 years.

In those 25 years — since the 1990 election, which the NLD also won — Aung San Suu Kyi spent a total of 15 years without her freedom, having been placed under house arrest by the ruling military government which ignored the election results.

Since 1988, Ms. Suu Kyi has led nonviolent opposition to the military government. Last week’s landslide election results, which took the ruling generals by surprise, demonstrate once again that nonviolence is a force more powerful than violence.

Aung San Suu Kyi learned about the nonviolent tactics of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and Mahatma Gandhi during her education at Oxford. In 1988, when she returned to Burma to take care of her ill mother, she began to participate in the plight of the Burmese people. She toured the country, speaking about peaceful reform and using her knowledge of King and Gandhi's nonviolent methods to build up those in the movement. Her message evoked a huge response, and the National League for Democracy was born.

Prospects looked bleak for Aung San Suu Kyi and the NLD for many years. Ms. Suu Kyi suffered under house arrest from 1989 to 1995 and from 2000 to 2002. A little more than a year later she was imprisoned and then placed under house arrest again, from which she was released in 2010.

As Ms. Suu Kyi lived under house arrest, all the while she persisted in her commitment to nonviolence and the freedom of the Burmese people. While it was always difficult — at times impossible — to communicate from her home prison, Aung San Suu Kyi maintained her leadership. Millions of Burmese continued to look to her as their leader. While she exposed government corruption and injustice, Ms. Suu Kyi also refused to fuel hate toward the ruling generals. She maintained her nonviolent approach throughout.

At this delicate time of transition (the new government won’t take effect until the new year), Aung San Suu Kyi has taken a conciliatory approach. She exhorted her followers not to “gloat” over the election results. She has stated her desire to work with the ruling generals, both in the transition and in the new government. Under the constitution written by the military government, 25 percent of the seats in the Parliament belong to the military, so Ms. Suu Kyi will need to learn to work with the generals.

Nonviolence has proved its strength in the election results in Myanmar. Now the world is watching to see how a nonviolent approach can navigate a tricky transition, and, even more importantly, how nonviolence can work in a coalition government of NLD members and military generals.

Ms. Suu Kyi has always found her way forward with grace and wisdom. May this time be no exception.

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