Myanmar: fear of losing power corrupts

The three-finger salute has become the protest sign of the Burmese.

“It is not power that corrupts, but fear. Fear of losing power corrupts those who wield it..” -Daw Aung San Suu Kyi in 1991 when she accepted the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought, 1991.

Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi was then under house arrest by the Burmese military. In 2015 she came to power as the de facto leader of Myanmar (The military changed the constitution making it impossible for someone married to a foreigner to run for office. Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi is married to an Englishman).

A few days ago the military once again took control over the country and arrested Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi. The general consensus is that the power grab was because the military were afraid of losing power. Fact is however that the military never lost power under Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi’s rule. Fact is also that this time she cannot count on the support of the Burmese and certainly not on the international community that rewarded her braveness as a fighter for the powerless in the 90s with a Nobel Peace Prize.

Her demise was letting a slaughter against the powerless Muslim Rohingya minority take place in her country as I wrote earlier* after a visit to Myanmar in 2016. In 2019 she faced charges for genocide in the International Court of Justice, but to the dismay of many framed the Rohingya as terrorists fighting the military. Many past Nobel Laureates called for her Nobel Prize to be revoked.

Apparently Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi was also afraid of losing power and didn’t want to upset the military establishment by recognizing the plight of the Rohingya.

It is unclear what will happen next. The UN Security Council doesn’t have China on board to pass a resolution condemning the military actions. Also, the West doesn’t have much leverage with the Burmese military which it has always punished. Piling up sanctions will mostly hit the people of Myanmar and not the military.

I think that this shows that diplomatic relations should be based on skillful tactics and not merely on penalizing and isolating regimes that are not deemed friendly. Hopefully the Association of Southeastern Asia (ASEAN) which Myanmar belongs to, can quietly engage with the military without much unnecessary meddling by Washington and Brussels.

Alex David Rosaria (53) is a freelance consultant active in Asia & Pacific. He is a former Member of Parliament, Minister of Economic Affairs, State Secretary of Finance and UN Implementation Officer in Africa and Central America. He’s from Curaçao and has a MBA from the University of Iowa. (USA).

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