This will likely be her longest detention in her decade as a Rohingya leader. She did not disappear into a cell when the military launched a counterinsurgency campaign against the Rohingya Muslim minority in late 2016. Rather, she spent most of last year under house arrest because she had refused to leave her country to stand trial on the trumped-up charge of violating Myanmar’s Official Secrets Act. The charges stem from a June 2017 incident in which she was snapped by reporters on a Myanmar government security helicopter taking a picture of the houses occupied by refugees.
When Meikku Tun, the captain, acknowledged that she was going to jail, Ms. Suu Kyi smiled and waved to the media. Her smile suggested that she was aware of the sadness that was descending on her country, a year before a general election that saw Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy party win a majority of seats.
Though she received some criticism for not immediately standing up to the military and pressing for its removal from governing power, Ms. Suu Kyi had shown courage in the face of dark events. And in 2016, she presided over the emergence of a new-found civil society in Myanmar.
Today, Ms. Suu Kyi is back behind bars, infuriating her supporters and increasing her isolation from the country’s people.
But will Ms. Suu Kyi be able to carry the torch and lead her people to an increasingly prosperous future? Or will she have to concede that she was part of the problem and repent for her role in Myanmar’s military-supported political and economic crackdown?
Here’s the problem: Ms. Suu Kyi is banned from running for office again under a new constitution that was crafted to prevent her from returning to the presidency and from becoming prime minister or even president. The NLD’s landslide election win marked a major cultural shift, in that the country’s largely Buddhist people felt they finally had a leader who treated them as equals. Ms. Suu Kyi won plaudits for championing peace talks with her ethnic minority allies, pushing to address the Rohingya crisis, and, when the financial tsunami hit the country, dealing with the fallout.
But now that her party has taken control of the executive and its members hold the state houses of assembly, the generals can once again strip Ms. Suu Kyi of her powers as president, obstruct her efforts to get new laws passed to address the Rohingya issue, and greatly dilute her role as the head of the NLD.
Ms. Suu Kyi had hopes for a clear path to become president, but that might be in jeopardy. There is no guarantee that her long imprisonment at home will not be counted against her as a disqualification by the military-backed constitution. The role of the president may be divided into one for the state house and one for the parliament. The National League for Democracy won 59.4 percent of parliament’s seats, and the military 14.6 percent, according to a report by Democracy Now!
Even if Ms. Suu Kyi is able to secure the presidency, she is likely to face a hostile legislature. For example, the new president was not known to like her party before the election. She might find it difficult to muster the votes in parliament to impeach generals who otherwise might manage to avoid impeachment and new military-backed laws, possibly including a bill to further undermine the international rights groups that had come to Ms. Suu Kyi’s aid.
In Myanmar, this might be a good thing, because it will give the military the chance to use its powerful links with other Buddhist groups to further demonize Ms. Suu Kyi and even to seize control of the executive government.
There’s no sign that the NLD leadership is willing to cede power. But their dominance of the legislature could create a crisis that would force Ms. Suu Kyi to accept military demands for abrogating the country’s constitution. For the first time in her political career, this will be the test of whether she can be the person the world has come to know — the laureate of Nobel Peace Prize, a figurehead of peace and human rights, a champion of peace in a Muslim minority who for decades faced atrocities at the hands of the government.