Myanmar’s Aung San Suu Kyi shines in awful year, still an important force in politics

Aung San Suu Kyi is still far from the hero that many hopes she would be when she became Prime Minister in 2016. But she remains an important force in Myanmar’s roller coaster political landscape, which has suddenly gone from being marred by violence and human rights abuses to rebuilding itself as a promising economy.

Despite being elected into office as a Nobel Peace Prize winner, she has also proven to be stubborn, unwilling to accept criticism and is bitterly opposed to international human rights organizations.

Here are some facts about her:

What is her background?

Suu Kyi and her late husband, poet Michael Aris, met at Oxford University and fell in love at first sight. They married in May 1967. Suu Kyi says it was a source of great sadness that Aris died in an automobile accident at age 37.

Suu Kyi grew up in Burma (then known as Burma) as Daw Aung San Suu Kyi. She was educated at universities in Europe and later earned a doctorate in political science from Oxford. She served on a U.N. commission to help end the 1988 army crackdown on an ethnic rebellion in western Myanmar, which killed thousands.

“We were under the impression that the military would promise to resolve the conflict and protect the rights of our people,” she later wrote in her autobiography. But they “fired tear gas into our villages, launched indescribable, indiscriminate attacks on women and children, and executed her husband on the spot” as they neared the rebel base.

Suu Kyi took up political activism against Myanmar’s military rulers, and was jailed several times between 1988 and 1992. She spent 15 years in total under house arrest for her opposition to the military’s abuses. It was the longest stretch of her life.

What happened after she was freed?

Shortly after she was released in 2010, Suu Kyi and her party won a landslide victory in a general election that ended 60 years of military rule in Myanmar. She was initially swept to power, but the military refused to hand her the kind of power her party had amassed. The new, nominally civilian government set up in 2011 was supposed to adopt political reform and create an environment for Suu Kyi to take charge.

What happened in 2016?

The generals threatened to hold new elections, making Suu Kyi’s political party mired in political infighting. Suu Kyi finally agreed to let the generals set the date for a new election under a UN-backed peace plan, but not the election itself. The military then decided to disband Suu Kyi’s party and replace it with a civilian slate, removing Suu Kyi from power. The generals are looking to regain as much power as possible.

What happened this year?

After stripping Suu Kyi of her title as state counsellor, the junta set a new election for November this year. The new government was sworn in in April, and Suu Kyi became de facto leader of Myanmar, but she gave up her official role. The polls were a farce, and all 22 members of Suu Kyi’s new government were from a junta-drafted constitution. The government is also boycotting international human rights organizations and participating in prisoner swaps with ethnic armed groups.

Her country is also in bad financial shape, owing US$20 billion to foreign creditors and suffering from a severe budget deficit. What’s next?

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