No respite for Suu KyiMyanmar’s situation should be a warning bell for those who harbour authoritarian nostalgia.
It seems there is no respite for Myanmar's ousted civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who, having been deposed through a coup in February last year, has been sentenced to four more years in prison. The charges levelled against her sound ridiculous, to say the least, for she has been accused of, among other things, possessing unlicensed walkie-talkies and breaking Covid-19 restrictions during the 2020 election campaign. But that is how things happen in military dictatorships. There is no limit to the excesses of a military dictatorship that considers a civilian leader a threat to its legitimacy.
Meanwhile, after an initial hullabaloo, the international community has failed to put any substantial pressure on the military junta for releasing and protecting the democratic and human rights of the seasoned politician who has spent a better part of her life under the control of the military. At 76, Suu Kyi stares at years of secluded life ahead, and if the international community fails to pressurise the Myanmar military into releasing her, she may not even step out of the confines in this lifetime considering the number of charges levelled against her which, in total, amount to more than 100 years in prison.
Suu Kyi's politics has not always been right, especially after she was released from prison in 2010 and joined mainstream politics subsequently. She fell from grace, especially when she became Myanmar's state counsellor and de facto leader and all but toed the line of the military in the wake of the refugee crisis. She failed to intervene when hundreds of thousands of Rohingyas were pushed out of the country's borders. There is, therefore, ample space to question Suu Kyi's democratic credentials when she was in power. However, it is not difficult to gauge, albeit in retrospect, that she might have been wary of speaking out.
Suu Kyi's case should also ring a warning bell for those who harbour authoritarian nostalgia, no matter how tiresome the current forms of government and politics are. Samuel Huntington, taking a cue from Guillermo O'Donnell, has, in The Third Wave, warned that authoritarian nostalgia could, in certain circumstances, "conceivably pave the way for the 'slow death' of a democratic regime, with the military or other authoritarian forces resuming power." It is not unusual to become disillusioned by what has been going on in the name of democracy, especially the way political leaders conduct themselves. Disillusionment with democratic rulers and the nostalgia for authoritarian ones, as Huntington points out, are first steps to democratic consolidation, but only in the condition that the disillusionment leads to the knowledge that leaders can be removed, and the democratic behaviour based on that knowledge.
But the alternative to the democratic process is a better democratic process, and not authoritarianism or tyranny of the institution of the military. The only way forward is to continue fighting each day to bolster the democratic process.