Looking across the mighty Hlaing River, one does not need to know much of Burmese history to realize that Rangoon was once a culturally rich city. But in 2005, the Burmese regime led by the State Peace and Development Council famously decided to abandon the beautifully crafted capital city to the greenfield site in Naypyidaw as the country’s new government center.
Today the old power center is fast declining into a state of decay. Historical monuments urgently need restoration. Some of the damaged buildings caused by Cyclone Nargis in 2007 are still left unattended. Rangoon’s physical degeneration has partly been exacerbated by the long years of authoritarianism that Burma has endured since the military took over and pushed out civilian rule in 1962. The dilapidated old capital has emerged as a symbol of political turmoil: falling, frustrating and hopeless.
When the SPDC, under the leadership of the military strongman Senior General Than Shwe, declared that it would hold general elections in 2010 for the first time in 20 years, some of the Rangoon residents were delighted, albeit skeptical. Observers believe it will be held on Oct. 10, considered an auspicious date by the Burmese generals.
Not everyone really understood how the upcoming election would reinstall the lost concept of democracy. But all were dreaming that some changes would take place under a new democratic rule. However, these dreams have been demolished following the recent announcement that Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, the leader of the National League for Democracy, would not be allowed to participate in the election.
At a gathering of leading scholars of Burma at the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies in Singapore on April 5, nobody seemed to be able to predict Suu Ky’s future role now that both she and her party will not be contesting in the election. But what is predictable is that the election will go on, that Western governments will reject the legitimacy of whoever will come to power and that the Association of Southeast Asian Nations will go along with the new administration without asking too many questions. Continue reading “A New Role for Aung San Suu Kyi?”