Hearty greetings, Aung San, the Noble laureate.
Democracy in Myanmar was long forbidden and we could understand the courage you have shown to stand by it for many years. It is almost two decades that you have been under the house arrest, and several of the activists of the National League for Democracy (NLD) were thrown behind the bars or forced to exile. You have survived the death of your scholar husband Michael Aris while in the house arrest and your determination not to return to England for his funeral has finally paid off.
The year 1990 has been a clarion call for two countries in south Asia for transforming into democracy. Then Burma, Myanmar was preparing to launch democratic system under your leadership, with the victory of NLD in election. Bhutan was undergoing a pro-democratic movement to prepare for the transformation from absolute monarchy to democracy. Yet, the military junta in Burma put a ban on NLD despite your victory, while in Bhutan the monarchy unleashed an undeclared terrorism on the civilians of ethnic Nepali-speaking minority. These two absolute regimes were not prepared to accept the people’s voice to demand fundamental rights and let the change occur for a free civic life.
The ban on political parties by these two regimes has to do with the demoralization of aspirants of change in the governance system. Although you contested and won the election from within the country, not a single political party was allowed to exist in Bhutan and the exile based political parties could not break ice to ignore the ban. When democracy was shared as a gift to the Bhutanese subjects by the fourth king, only two political parties were allowed to contest the general election that went without much fanfare. The general population was not able to make an informed choice about the candidates vying for seat in the parliament.
Madam Su Kyi,
You had spent some time in Bhutan back in 1970s when your scholar husband Michael Aris worked there and studied about the advent of Monarchy in Bhutan, later to publish the book, ‘Raven Crown: Origin of Buddhist monarchy in Bhutan’. Demographically and geographically, Bhutan and Myanmar share some common features in terms of the ethnicity and mountain topography. Ethnic Nepali, called Lhotshampa in Bhutan, and Sarchhop community of eastern Bhutan who join hands to bring democratic changes particularly after 1990, were considered threat to hereditary monarchy and branded anti-nationals. However, a written constitution was introduced for the first time and general election to constitute a democratic government was held in 2008, after the fourth king relinquished throne in favor of his son. This has taken place subsequent to the forcing out a large section of the general public who could significantly contribute to the making of a democratic government by the people, for the people. So, democracy in Bhutan is still a perilous path, while this should not be the case in Myanmar under your leadership.
It was heartening to see the televised news on BBC; visit to Myanmar by two western dignitaries, David Cameron and Hillary Clinton. With David Cameron you appeared emotionally energized to have him by your side. I assume that was the moment to ponder upon those youthful days you spent in Oxford with Michael, Kim and Alexander. The Prime Minster welcoming you back to UK for a visit is a symbol of victory of democratic ideals over the autocratic system manipulations.
With Hillary Clinton, you shared the same feminine strength and principled evoking of power to express that Myanmar’s reinvention of democracy is always patronized by the US. To the contrary, the US, UK or any other European dignitaries do not feel the urgency to visit Bhutan to question the functioning of infant democracy sans one hundred thousand of citizens forced out of the country in pretext of maintaining a demographic balance. The exile of such a large section of the population is not due to the armed conflict between government forces and civilians as may be the case in Myanmar. It is rather a systematic denationalization and terrorizing of civilians to leave the country after compelling them to sign a voluntary migration forms developed exceptionally for the purpose.
News report by New York Times covering your election campaign has added fresh hope to all ethnicities of Burma resettled in the US. They are excited to be back to their country once democracy under your charismatic leadership is in full function. That is not a likely chance for Bhutanese refugees resettled in the west for the moment. Dissidence is feared by those bureaucrat-turned- politicians of Bhutan. Therefore returning of dissident voice to be incorporated in the process of gifted democracy (still at the mercy of palace) is highly ruled out and marginalized by larger democracies of the world.
With your strong conviction to lead the democratic struggle of Myanmar, you reflect your father’s dream of independent Burma, and while sustaining the oppressive Junta rule you also emerge to be another strong female leader of south Asia, a tradition to carry on. Your strength, courage, conviction, patience and tolerance are the virtues to be handed down and these ingredients of an able, farsighted leadership Bhutanese must learn from you.
Having reentered the scene of democratic election campaign, your simplistic approach to reach out to the rural life of Myanmar is encouraging to address the long oppressed supporters of NLD. In Bhutan, the politicians going out to the public garnering their support for 2013 general election are still posing themselves aristocratic and seeking panegyric. Interestingly, the prime minister speaking in Nepali to address the Lhotshampa (Nepali-speaking southern Bhutanese) constituencies in Samtse district of south-western Bhutan can be taken as a political game show.
If Myanmar poses for a multiparty democracy after a long crisis, she can set example for nascent democracies in South Asia emancipating out of autocratic regimes. Bhutan’s self-imposed isolation and theocratic foundation of government set by Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyal has not crumbled yet to give more freedom and rights to the people.
Shameful to mention that Bhutanese people were not considered the citizen of a country, rather subjects of a benevolent king, who is portrayed kind enough to give away land and property to his subjects. So the new model of Bhutanese democracy in absence of a hundred thousand evictees can hardly be epitomized as mass based and completely unshackled of the autocracy. Myanmar should go beyond that and strengthen grass-root democratic institutions once you hold the public office.
I salute you Madam for you are the brave daughter of a freedom loving father patronizing for a free Burma.
Buddha M Dhakal