THE continuing global outrage caused by atrocities committed by the Myanmar military against the Rohingya minority in Rakhine state has put unrelenting pressures and heat on its democratically-elected leader Aung San Suu Kyi.
That Suu Kyi has hardly lifted a finger or added her once weighty moral voice in the face of a seeming determination by her military to use all means — fair or foul — to exterminate a distinct minority population in the country’s midst has seen her formerly unimpeachable aura as a democratic voice of reason all but universally dissipated.
Myanmar faces a host of challenges and problems as it transitioned from decades of military rule to some semblance of popular, democratic governance. Many of these can at least be ameliorated if the nation’s economy is in better shape and can promise greater and more inclusive growth nationwide.
The nation faces almost perpetual risk of disintegration as even the strong arm of military suppression has not succeeded in quelling various ethnic armed insurgencies.
There needs to be a wholly inclusive national dialogue so that violence and armed insurrections can make way for more peaceful ways to accommodate divisions and differences.
Such a dialogue has of course taken place but, as it happens, usually in fits and starts. The trouble with the Rohingya, though, is that they lack even a semblance of political legitimacy that other ethnic minorities in Myanmar possess. The Rohingya are regarded as interlopers originally from Bangladesh even if they have settled in Myanmar for generations.
Thus, unlike our own Chinese and Indian immigrants who came to this country mostly during colonial times and were given full citizenship rights as part of the agreement (contentiously arrived at, to be sure) before Merdeka was granted, the Rohingya question was unsettled business left over when the British left colonial Burma, as it then was.
Succeeding rulers of the country — struggling to gain national legitimacy in a fractious political environment — perhaps understandably had little to no time for the Rohingya problem which, as with any such social/political headaches, naturally festers and then explodes.
Quite how the issue now evidently blows up in the face of Suu Kyi and the civilian administration she heads is a bit mystifying but a fair bit of the blame has to be borne by her, perhaps compounded by political inexperience and competence sorely wanting.
The once democracy icon’s fall from international (though not domestic) grace has been precipitous. By the looks of things, Suu Kyi might have just compounded her predicament if, as seems obvious from latest statements made, she has spurned an olive branch Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad has proffered.
Dr Mahathir has let it be known that Suu Kyi has not even bothered to reply to a letter he had sent her. At a time when Dr Mahathir has won international acclaim as a regional, even global, statesman, possibdisplacing Suu Kyi from the pedestal that she once occupied, she may have yet stumbled into another blunder.
Given her understandable disdain for Datuk Seri Najib Razak who did much to lead an international outcry over the Rohingya’s plight when he was prime minister, Dr Mahathir should have been a welcome opportunity for Suu Kyi to try to recover some of her lost international lustre and the not inconsiderable regional goodwill that Myanmar needs for economic recovery.
Recall that it was Dr Mahathir who was quite instrumental in bringing Myanmar into the Asean fold at a time when that was not exactly the most popular cause. Malaysia followed that up with her own quiet campaign to spring Suu Kyi out of detention.
Former Malaysian ambassador to Myanmar Datuk John Tenawi Nuek once enigmatically related to this writer how Suu Kyi personally “owed him” for his diplomatic efforts on her behalf.
Myanmar sits at a strategic crossroads, sandwiched between the Asian giants, China and India, both of which traditionally are interested only in gaining regional advantage in their geo-strategic rivalry with hardly any pretence of regard for the best interests of lesser individual countries.
An historically stubborn and proud nation such as Myanmar had turned towards Suu Kyi as its saviour from the disastrous isolationist policies of its former military rulers.
The deepest irony will be that as she digs in in the face of near universal opprobrium for her, and therefore indirectly her country, Myanmar may fall ever more tightly into the embrace of India and China in particular.
The writer views developments in the nation, the region and the wider world from his vantage point in Kuching, Sarawak