Meng Chai writes from Yangon: Oh, dear! Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear! Aung San Suu Kyi has been caught with her hand in the till. The beacon of democracy in Myanmar has confirmed that she has received hundreds of thousands of dollars from shady businessmen. How does one become rich in Burma? Easy. Get in close with the ruling military junta. OK, the country has moved the generals off stage. There is a President, Thien Sein, and an elected parliament with members of Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) there. The harsh reality is, as the President conceded, that nothing happens without the generals having the final say. The two multimillionaires who bankroll Suu Kyi are not pushing money in her direction out of the goodness of their hearts. They expect a return on their investment. So what has she promised them?
Parliamentary elections are due in 2015 and the NLD is expected to become the leading party in the new parliament. So the NLD needs money. Where is to be obtained if not from the oligarchs around the generals? They control much of the country’s abundant wealth and believe that opening up to the outside world will increase their assets. The only problem is that the two oligarchs who have donated money to the NLD are blacklisted by the United States and European Union. So they are bad boys.
What is the alternative for Suu Kyi? Accept millions of dollars from the US? If she did that she would be seen as selling out to the Yanks. So she cannot solicit donations from rich Western countries. The money has to come from within Myanmar.
Since she is on good terms with some oligarchs she is obliged to take a stance which does not embarrass the government or the generals. Take human rights, for example. Much is made of her brave stand for human rights in her country. However, in her eyes, this appears only to embrace the ethnic Burmese population. She has been severely criticised for not speaking out against the maltreatment of Muslim Rohingya, a stateless minority in the west, by Rakhine Buddhists. The latter refuse to acknowledge that the Muslims have a right to live in Myanmar. The government will not grant them citizenship. Then there are the minorities in the north fighting for autonomy. The Christian Kerens, for example, are being decimated by the Burmese army. All appeals to Suu Kyi for support have gone unheeded.
One can understand the dilemma she is in. There are hundreds of ethnic minorities in Myanmar. If she speaks out for one, all the others will ask her to defend their interests, first and foremost their human rights. After all she did win the Nobel Peace Prize. So she has to compromise. In order to modernise Myanmar she has to work with the ruling ethnic Burmese rulers. If she sides with the minorities her political career could be virtually over.
So the reality is that Suu Kyi is not the lady on the white horse bringing democracy to Burma. She is being used by the generals to make the country more attractive to foreign investors. The main reason for this is that the generals want to escape being swallowed up by the Chinese dragon.
Politics is about compromise. Suu Kyi is finding that she has to make painful concessions in order to remain a leading figure. Starry-eyed optimists in the West should wake up and realise that she will work with the generals and government to their mutual advantage. After all, that is the way politics works in the West.
Suu Kyi is compromised. That is the price she has to pay to remain a leading politician.