Journalist, writer, specialist on Burma, Sophie Ansel answered our questions after the military coup and the arrest of Aung San Suu Kyi.
Paris Match. Is this coup a surprise, given the outcome of the last elections and the growing tension between the military and Aung Saan Suu Kyi’s party?
Sophie Ansel. A wave of speculation for a week had reported a possible military coup against the civilian government of Aung San Suu Kyi with in particular the increased presence of soldiers in strategic places of large cities and the holding of protests. military. Tensions have been latent with the army since the November elections which saw a landslide victory for the National League for Democracy (NLD) over the military, with 396 seats for the NLD against 33 for the military offering Aung San Suu Kyi and the NLD the most important mandate since independence. General Min Aung Hlaing today justifies his coup by accusing the government of failing to act on accusations of electoral fraud in the last November elections and the inability of the civilian government of Aung San Suu Kyi to postpone the elections in the midst of the Coronavirus crisis.
In reality, the democratic process never really took place in practice (the treatment of minorities is the first indicator) and this coup d’état only confirms the military’s intention not to cede power. Since 2010, a new strategy has been put in place by the military to keep economic, political and military power by disguising their operations as a democratic process. The Burmese military used Aung San Suu Kyi in 2010-2011 to open up international trade (until then Burma lived under boycott) and, in return, offer some signs of democratic openings in the form of the release of political prisoners. (including racist monks like Wirathu who have helped fuel hatred and unreasoning fear towards harmless and violently persecuted minorities like the Rohingya). The military fueled hatred and fear against the fabricated enemy “Rohingya”, allowing them to distract the people, to forget 50 years of persecution of which they were guilty, to assert their power and “reassure” the population about the military presence protecting the Buddhist religion in the country. Aung San Suu Kyi has been brought to the forefront of the international stage to validate the actions of the military, both on the ethnic cleansing of the Rohingya and to continue to ensure the establishment of international exchanges without hindrance. Today, with this coup, the Burmese military reaffirms that they never intended to cede power to Aung Sann Suu Kyi or to anyone else.
Aung San Suu Kyi is not the only figure to have been arrested
Aung San Suu Kyi’s aura paled with the repression of the Rohyinga minority. Is she still a credible interlocutor on the international scene? Do you think that there will be a mobilization as important as in the past to demand his release?
Nobel Peace Prize winner in 1991, Aung San Suu Kyi was a figure and symbol representing hope, freedom and democracy until 2011 in Burma. The Rohingya tragedy that erupted in 2012 was his first real opportunity to defend the true values and principles of democracy in his country. It has clearly turned its back on these values and on a population very heavily persecuted during the dictatorship. She sided with the oppressors to the point of going to the international court of justice in The Hague to deny the genocide of which her country is accused and to support the military decisions and operations that have claimed the lives of countless numbers today. hui of Rohingya, the majority of whose survivors have fled to Bangladesh. Aung San Suu Kyi was contemptuous of persecuted minorities but also of those who defended her across the world. So indeed his credibility and his aura took a hit and most human rights defenders dissociated themselves from him.
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Now there is and there will be mobilization. Aung San Suu Kyi is already supported by a large part of the Bamar majority population in Burma and internationally. Aung San Suu Kyi is not the only figure to have been arrested and the mobilization of the international community is already being done for all the human rights defenders in Burma who are now arrested. The mobilization will be for the principle and the idea of democracy which, if it does not yet exist, remains the hope of a whole people. The mobilization will therefore be for the maintenance of the democratic process but the strength of the symbol Aung San Suu Kyi which was equivalent to Nelson Mandela in the past no longer exists.
The Buddhist monks had protested against his house arrest in 2007. Do you think that they can obtain his release and especially will they mobilize this time?
All Buddhist men in Burma are monks at least once in their life in Burma. It is in the ways and customs of the country. It is almost an obligation for every Buddhist Burmese man. There are approximately 500,000 monks in Burma and these monks are not the same from year to year. The majority soldiers have been, are or will be monks. Democrats and civilians are also monks before resuming their democratic struggle.
Aung San Suu Kyi is deeply Buddhist. She has always defended the Buddhist religion in Burma and there is a closeness between Aung San Suu Kyi’s party, the NLD and Buddhism. Aung San Suu Kyi’s party contains monks. Almost nothing opposes Aung San Suu Kyi to the monks. The only monks who clearly opposed Aung San Suu Kyi were monks like the infamous Wirathu who has never ceased to fuel an anti Rohingya or anti Aung San Suu Kyi narrative. So yes certainly some of the monks will mobilize for Aung San Suu Kyi and all the members of the government or defenders of human rights or freedom who have been arrested.
Now there has also been a proximity of some monks and the military, especially following the demonstrations of 2007. The great council of Burmese monks, Sangha Maha Nayaka, was a showcase to better master the hundreds of thousands of monks in the country. Since 2007, the regime has tried to strengthen its control over the monastic community. First of all by direct oppression, as we saw in 2007. But also by a closer relationship with the religious hierarchy. The regime “courted the great monks”. The soldiers pay colossal sums for the maintenance of pagodas and monasteries. Courted by power, both by the NLD and the military, in the face of tensions over the elections, the Sangha Maha Nayaka called for discussions and negotiations. Other monks have both disassociated themselves from Aung San Suu Kyi and the soldiers in protest at the massacres on the Rohingya. So I think that monks will act but that we will not reach the mobilizations of 2007. And within the monastic community, there will be many differences.
Sophie Ansel is the author of “First they erased our name – a Rohingya speaks», Published by La Martinière (2018) co-written with Habiburahman.