Saturday, April 14, 2012

Left Side of the Aisle #52 - Part 1

Aung San Suu Kyi elected to Parliament

Some good news from an unusual place: the nation of Burma. I stuck this in very quickly at the end of last week's show, just a sentence or two, but I wanted to give it a little more attention, even though the news is more than weeks old now.

Go back to 1990, when the National League for Democracy overwhelmingly won elections in Burma: It got 59% of vote and won 81% of the seats in Parliament. But the military blocked Parliament from convening because, simply, it didn't like who won. That lead to a continuation of the years of brutal military dictatorship.

Even before that election, the previous July, the General Secretary of the National League for Democracy (or NLD, as it was known) had been put under house arrest by the military. Her name was - and is - Aung San Suu Kyi, and she became one of the best-known political prisoners in the world as she spent 15 of the following 21 years under house arrest before finally being released in 2010.

In 1990 Suu Kyi received both the Rafto Prize, a human rights award, and the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought. She won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991. In 1992 the government of India gave her its Jawaharlal Nehru Award for International Understanding and the government of Venezuela gave her its International Simón Bolívar Prize. In 2007, Canada made her an honorary citizen; at time, she one of only four such people with that honor. In 2011, following her release, she was awarded the Wallenberg Medal.

Why all this matters is that in 2010 there was a national election in Burma, after which the new president instituted some political reforms which the military realized it had no choice but to allow. As a result, the NLD participated in the elections held on April 1. It was the first time in years the group had done so, regarding previous elections as shams.

The election was limited; it was for only the 45 open seats out of the total of 664 seats in the two houses of Parliament. The important point here, however, is that the NLD competed for 44 of those seats and won 43 of them - including one to be occupied by Aung San Suu Kyi.

The party is still a small minority in Parliament - but it is there and its popularity and therefore its potential can't be denied.

There is still a long way to go for Burma: The military appoints fully 1/4 of the members of each house of Parliament and remains firmly in control even as Burma remains deep in poverty. But there has been movement and it is a reminder that change is possible: A year ago, you could be arrested for holding a portrait of Aung San Suu Kyi. Now she's in parliament. And that's good news.

PS: Notice I call it Burma, not Myanmar. Myanmar is what the junta calls it. The democracy activists call it Burma. So should you.


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