Editorial: Suu Kyi must now play a waiting game

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The rapturous 10,000-strong crowd which gathered to celebrate Aung San Suu Kyi's release from house arrest raised the possibility that Myanmar's ruling junta had made a colossal mistake.

This was surely an expression of people power of the sort that has spelled the end of many a repressive regime.

The generals had released the cork from the bottle and it would surely be impossible for them to put it back. But such a conclusion would be premature.

Suu Kyi must tread carefully if she is not to again fall foul of a regime that is as ruthless and repressive as it is remote from Western influence.

There is little to suggest Myanmar's generals are ready to relinquish the power they have held since 1962.

Suu Kyi's story bears testimony to their ongoing determination.

The 1991 Nobel peace laureate has been under house arrest for most of the two decades since 1990, when the military junta annulled elections in which her National League for Democracy won 80 per cent of the vote.

The regime hoped her influence would wane. Clearly, that has not happened, and the pent-up anger of the Myanmar people was evident three years ago when protests led by the country's venerated Buddhist monks were brutally suppressed.

The junta's response to this, and Western outrage, has been to attempt to legitimise itself through sham elections, which were staged this month.

Those polls represented no change of heart about democracy and human rights.

It was always a foregone conclusion that parties sponsored by the military would win overwhelming majorities in the two central parliamentary chambers and 14 regional assemblies.

What could not have been foreseen by the regime was a very low voter turn-out.

This carried its own commentary, especially as Suu Kyi had called for a boycott.

Her problem now is that she must continue to enunciate the principles that have won her renown abroad and a legion of expectant followers in her own country without alienating the regime to such a degree that it returns her to captivity and isolation.

She has indicated that she still sees herself as at the forefront of Myanmar's fight for democracy. But, pragmatically, she has also said she is prepared to talk to the generals.

"I've always believed in compromise," she said on her release.

"I am for national reconciliation. I am for dialogue. Whatever authority I have, I will use to that end ... I hope the people will support me."

The role of the international community must be to place pressure on the generals to agree to such talks. Regrettably, there will not be universal support for this.

In the West, Suu Kyi has become an international symbol of peaceful resistance in the face of oppression.

The generals, however, are not the only ones to have a dimmer view.

While Myanmar has suffered from widespread Western sanctions for many years, it has survived thanks to the support of India, which has placed access to oil and gas above any human rights qualms, and China.

Myanmar's neighbours are also largely uncritical.

Indeed, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) described the recent elections as a significant step forward.

At some time, the people of Myanmar will have their way. Hopefully, the generals will soon realise their time is up and agree to negotiations that will preface the restoration of genuine democracy. Only in that way will the spilling of further blood be avoided.

At the moment, however, that point still seems some way off. The military junta may be seen to be taking a risk in releasing Suu Kyi.

Probably it does not see it that way. Suu Kyi's dissent, and that of her followers, will have to be carefully managed until they are, indeed, an irresistible force.

- NZ Herald

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