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Myanmar's democratic alternative

THE CONSIDERED MOVE by Myanmar's military junta in releasing the country's celebrated protagonist of democracy, Aung San Suu Kyi, at this juncture has not really made any epochal impact on the consciousness of the international community. Two factors account for the relative absence of a sense of momentous news at this time. First, Ms. Suu Kyi herself has lost some of her political lustre as the sole authentic leader of Myanmar in the past year or so. In the event, the prime significance of her release from her latest spell of house arrest is that she can now hope to project herself as the democratic alternative to the existing military dictatorship that styles itself as the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC). To discern a subtle aspect of this kind is not to underestimate Ms. Suu Kyi's potential ability to bounce back as the true representative of the Myanmarese people. However, while there is no doubt whatsoever about her historic contribution to the ethos of an internationally resonant struggle for democracy in that South East Asian state, the charismatic leader of the Myanmarese National League for Democracy (NLD) has more recently suffered a certain degree of eclipse as a votary of freedom. This has something to do with the comparative success of the SPDC leaders at the vile art of propaganda against her political credentials. At a different but related level, Ms. Suu Kyi seemed to have decided at some point during the past several months to modulate, if not also moderate, her democracy campaign itself. Closely linked to these realities is the second factor that appears to have determined the political complexion of the present situation in Myanmar. Now that the ongoing U.S.-led campaign against the globalised politics of terrorism has come to overshadow the so-called Western crusade for democracy around the world, the NLD leader in Myanmar cannot obviously ignore such consequential diplomatic inferences as the SPDC might wish to draw.

The timing of the SPDC's latest decision to set Ms. Suu Kyi at liberty is, in a sense, related to America's current agenda of choosing tactical and strategic friends for its anti-terror campaign without much concern for the political proclivities of the ruling dispensations across the international stage. Whether or not Myanmar's SPDC can indeed hope to become a U.S. partner in this regard, the fact remains that Senior General Than Shwe and his associates in Yangon have chosen a particularly sensitive moment in world politics to try and play a card that might earn them a few brownie points in the reckoning of the West. Yet, if the European Union in particular claims to be still very sceptical of the SPDC's current game plan, the reason flows from the very uncertainties of the unfolding scene in Myanmar.

Now, Ms. Suu Kyi herself has hinted, soon after her release, that she might want to opt for a reasonably calibrated countdown towards democratic resurgence in her country. Current news and diplomatic reports from Yangon portray her in a mood of some conciliation towards the Yangon regime. It is of course too early to determine whether she will think deeply before planning any mass mobilisation campaign for the restoration of democracy in Myanmar. Her calculations will pertain to the external responses that the SPDC's latest initiative might evoke. While the Yangon establishment has at present acted in the context of the U.N.'s diplomatic intervention that was aimed at stabilising the politics of Myanmar, the question before both the NLD leader and the SPDC is whether they can reach a settlement by treating the democracy question as their country's internal matter. Global and regional powers, including India, can encourage a direct dialogue between the SPDC and the NLD, given Ms. Suu Kyi's past record of preferring non-violence even in the face of provocation. Her current stance on non-violence seems to be no different.

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