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Suu Kyi, President Trump and confusing democracy

Sep 18. 2018
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By Tulsathit Taptim
The Nation

It was a lot easier to defend the “Iron Lady” when she was under house arrest, but let me try now. We can start by considering the jailing of the Reuters reporters in Myanmar and Donald Trump’s regular and vicious attacks on the media altogether. In other words, we must bring the US president into the equation in defence of Aung San Suu Kyi.

Then we perhaps should look at Myanmar’s court rulings on the journalists from that country’s point of view. After all, Myanmar was just an emerging “democracy”, right? That means its people should be heard a little bit, whether we agree with them or not.

I don’t see an uproar in Myanmar. An international outcry, yes, but a domestic outrage, no. Why is that? Is it because voters of Myanmar elected and then approved a political system that jailed reporters who were virtually helping minority people whom the majority doesn’t like?

We are seeing a conflict of interests on the biggest ideological scale here. If we think democracy is letting the majority prevail, then what has Suu Kyi done wrong? Is criticising her tantamount to saying victory at the ballot boxes should not be everything?

Is Suu Kyi supposed to follow the “majority rules” concept or is there a certain set of moral principles that goes beyond democracy? She has been confined to her own home for so long, during which she barely saw the outside world, so somebody please advise her.

She used to give democracy a great name, serving as an excellent symbol of the ideology, so, instead of trying to tear her apart, maybe now it is payback time from the world? Myanmar is more or less the same. The country is grappling with unfamiliar principles, so give it a break. 

Even the “model of democracy”, the United States, has not seemed able to come to term with key values of the ideology. Donald Trump’s latest swipe at the media in his country, and boos and jeers that followed, showed that America is probably as clueless as Myanmar.

Whether you are with Trump or you are with the American media, chances are you are wondering if you are on democracy’s side or opposite it. The media are accusing Trump, the people’s choice, of being voters’ bad and dangerous mistake. Trump said his accusers are in fact creators of fake news, hence destroyers, not a pillar, of democracy.

If we are to be believe the American media, including tycoon Jeff Bezos, Trump is the voters’ dangerous error. Is this supposed to mean America’s election system is not foolproof?

And if we are to believe Trump’s claims that the media have been lying to the people, is it supposed to mean a model democratic system in which journalists play a fundamental role is not reliable after all?

We still don’t know who is telling the truth. We can only know that one of them must be lying to us. That is a certainty, which is not helping the American system, however.

Back to Suu Kyi, she said the imprisoned Reuters journalists were convicted of breaking the law. First thing first, she did not attack the media, although one can argue that by defending internationally-presumed attacks on the media, she was in effect discrediting the media, too. She could have said that Myanmar’s court was unjust, under military control, or easily influenced by public sentiment, but it’s easier to take to task a foreign court than a domestic one, isn’t it?

Speaking at an international forum, Suu Kyi can choose to lambaste Myanmar’s court and stay on abroad in self-imposed exile, which could send her motherland back into the old, dreaded days, or she can choose to focus her talk on legal principles, get back to her own country, continue living with the shadowy half-baked democracy and endure all the painful dilemmas that only politics can provide.

The Nobel Peace Prize is weighing heavily on her. The irony is that the prestigious award was given to her as part of an international campaign to get her out of political detention, but the award is being cited by many virtually as something that she must honour, even if it means that, in doing so, she may subsequently have to return to political detention. 

I don’t know her motives, but she has opted to discuss legal principles while addressing the issue of Reuters journalists during the World Economic Forum in Vietnam. By so doing, her political plight since coming out of house arrest has escalated. She has been scolded, mocked and ridiculed by the very people who used to say the voices of the people of Myanmar should be heard.

My question is, if you were her, someone who has spent years under house arrest and could do absolutely nothing politically during that time, what would you do?

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