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Friday, 10 May, 2002, 14:53 GMT 15:53 UK
Can democracy be restored in Burma?
Aung San Suu Kyi
Burma's military government has released the pro-democracy leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, who has been under house arrest in Rangoon for the past 19 months.

With restrictions on her movement and political activities now lifted, she has pledged to work for her party, the National League for Democracy (NLD), and renew her struggle to bring back democracy to Burma.

Many supporters are hoping she will be able to wrest control of the country from the military, which cast aside her landslide election victory in 1990.

But Burma, estranged from most of the world after years of military rule, is now facing acute social deprivation and a crumbling economy.

Should the NLD try to work with Burma's military government? Or should it try to push for democratic reform in other ways?

This debate is now closed. Read a selection of your comments below.

Your reaction

The young military are struggling cautiously towards democracy

Yuwadi, Malaysia
I wish people had been more mature and made wiser by past experience. We should have had enough lessons and developed understanding in fighting the military government for democracy. I do not believe that international pressure has changed the military. The Burmese military doesn't care at all about any kind of pressure. Perhaps the young generation in the military are struggling very cautiously towards democracy for the benefit of the people. It is not easy for them to do it, but apparently they are trying for it. We MUST WELCOME and recognise their struggle, and look forward to work with them in the future. At least, we should not forget to give them a way out, rather than pushing to the corner. I believe that the more we are thinking that way, the nearer for us to get democracy.
Yuwadi, Malaysia

Good news for the whole of Burma

Dr Tin S, Taiwan
That was good news for the whole of Burma. I hope that the leadership of Aung Sun Su Kyi changes the people's lives and manages the socio-economic and healthcare crises.
Dr Tin S, Taiwan

"The non-zero sum game" is about to enter the next stage. Neither turbulent flow nor slow flow is a good movement. Constant, steady flow is the best movement. Some believe that the generals are only stringing out the process to deflect international pressure. They should realise that prolonging the process loses them bargaining power. The fast unravelling economy won't allow a long string.
Hlaing Oo, Japan

Military ascendancy is not a Burmese tradition. But we should notice that the legacy of Ne Win Era still remains in the political arena. The action against that family might be an attempt to separate the army from past connection with Ne Win. There is little hope that Burmese generals will go back to the barracks as their counterparts in Thailand did years ago.
Aye Chan, USA

Democracy cannot be restored in Burma, because Burma never in its history has had a stable democratic government

James M. Castro, USA
Democracy cannot be restored in Burma, because Burma never in its history has had a stable democratic government. Hopefully, through the work of Aung San Suu Kyi and others, democracy may take root in Burma. But it will be chancy, because the generals do not want to lose power.
James M. Castro, USA

The Burmese military rulers don't deserve praise or reward for righting their own wrongdoing. You don't bargain with bullies. The destiny of Burma is democracy and that's what the free world must insist on for Burma.
Robin Sengupta, USA

The dawn is coming. We are really happy in the UK.
Kyaw Kyaw Maw, UK

Burma will never be a democracy so long as the army are in charg.
Pradip, UK

This is the dawn of democracy to Burma. Of course, it is great news to anyone who realises the value of democracy, but we still need to be careful about the tricks and strategies of the junta. We should not be careless that they have nothing more than in their heart but power.
Kyaw Swe Myint, Japan

At last our nightmares are going to be finished and the suffering to be removed. We, the people who were away from the motherland, should welcome the progress of our country's political situation and thank both the government and the opposition party.
Min Maung Maung, USA

She will be the most effective instrument for pushing forward the democratic movement in her country

Claire Guyer, USA
I think it is a wonderful opportunity for Burma's people to finally have their leader restored to them. I do think that she will be the most effective instrument for pushing forward the democratic movement in her country. I hope that every government will welcome her release and see it as an opportunity for democracy, renewed order and better economic conditions for all of Burma's people. As one person has said already, "Caution and more work tomorrow but for one day let's just be happy!" Let's be happy for the hope that has been restored to Burma this day, and prepare to support those who are working.
Claire Guyer, USA

What we need now urgently is a completely stable country run by a government which really knows how to gain public trust. I believe neither NLD nor SPDC alone can do it. Democracy and human rights are no use for an empty stomach. Besides, we can't build a democratic country in one day. As Maung Maung, USA said, "We can't afford to suffer again for power play."
Poe Khwar, U.K

We believe that Aung San Suu Kyi will bring democracy to our country
YIT students

I'm sure that Burma will become a democratic country

Kyaw Kyaw Soe, Japan
I'm sure that Burma will become a democratic country. The will of the people, international pressure, economic and social crisis are pushing the military regime to change their way. The regime will become weak by its wrong policies and mismanagement.
Kyaw Kyaw Soe, Japan

I believe it was 1776 when this country gained its independence from a repressive government. I feel this is what Aung San Suu Kyi has in mind for Burma.
Michael E. Badgett, USA

The SPDC can no longer afford to operate without foreign investment. Suu Kyi's release is a ploy to encourage investment and lifting of sanctions. The world must do neither and keep the pressure. The SPDC are at their weakest for decades.
Enah, UK

Never mind Burma, with present attitudes and actions, can democracy be restored in western Europe? Or is the view held by the political establishment the only one permitted?
Paul B, Oxfordshire, UK

The government may rearrest her at any time

Htee Ku, Burma
This is not the first time we know Aung San Suu Kyi has been released from house arrest. The government may rearrest her at any time. However, let's build a stable democratic government as soon as possible before the government might take over power again.
Htee Ku, Burma

This is a great step forward, though I'm naturally cautious. I wonder what actions they'll take to support their words. Remember that although they're giving in to political pressure finally, that their motives have likely not changed. Suu Kyi has been released before in the past, though this release is said to be "unconditional." I think that there are some outstanding questions such as: will they hold a new election? Remember that the NLD won by a landslide in 1989 and that consequently lead to political detainments. Are they finally willing to provide a voice to the people? Or will they use this release to get themselves into the good graces of the US so that it will be "politically correct" for big name investors to resume investments? To date, most, if not all of that money has gone into pockets, and building a robust military.

The time to visit would be in the coming year to take a temperature of the general sentiment and hopefulness of the general public. Although I've expressed some weariness in the above, I do think that this is a step forward - strategic or otherwise. I encountered some people on my trip who were near to tears as we discussed their quality of life in private, and wish that I was there today to either see the celebration, or witness the doubt. I sense that their daily lives will not change much in the near future.
Phillippa Tan, USA

This is the same regime had put Daw Suu under house arrest in 1989 and released her from years later. Then put her behind the iron gate again. Now let her go outside the gate again! Who knows what's next? This on-again off-again pattern must stop here. The release is a great news indeed... yet, I'm still incredulous about her release being "unconditional." Let's wait and see.
Ryan Chow, US

Finally, our country leader has been freed. I am looking forward to Burma being a democratic country like the UK and America. Please help my country to be a democratic country. I believe the regime would make the election happen again. Hopefully, Burma will be free in everything, such as trade, and foreign exchanges. So let's help Burma now. Please!
Min Ye Lwin, United States of America

We have a lot to do to rebuild the country which decades long destruction by military rulers

Tin, USA
Yes, this is very heart-warming news, we (people) have to be united behind her. We can't just wait and see. We have a lot to do to rebuild the country which decades long destruction by military rulers.
Tin, USA

I'm really happy to hear that news about Aung San Suu Kyi's unconditional release. This is a victory for democratical strugglers in the world. She is an unstoppable heroine of our life time, for freedom, for democracy, for peace.
Kolitha Fernando, Sri Lankan living in Australia

We have some idea of what Aung San Suu Kyi is made of after all these years. Now we shall see what the rest of the world leaders are composed of, especially those who proclaim to support democracy and human rights. What indeed does the future hold for Burma?
Eva, USA

The military government in Burma has destroyed the country and needs to be replaced by a legitimate government. However, any government will find it difficult to repair all the damage that has been done. They will therefore need some real international help, not just words, to recover. If the military don't relinquish power soon, Burma is going to find itself in the same condition as North Korea, where there are food shortages and extreme poverty.
Phil T, Oman

Reward their commendable decision with line with Buddha's teachings

Tin M, Malaysia
Everybody, especially the Myanmars, should welcome this great positive step. We have already suffered, persevered and been patient. Now this is time to forgive the past as a reward for their commendable decision with goodwill. This will be in line with the Buddha's teachings. With these conceptions, we hope to regain a peaceful country desirable to stay for our citizens.
Tin M, Malaysia

The obvious danger is that the otherwise entirely laudable and long-overdue release of Aung San Suu Kyi will be the end of the process, not the beginning. Many other entirely innocent political prisoners languish in appalling conditions in Burma's jails, and unless there is continuing unremitting pressure from the rest of the world, they may well stay there. Nevertheless, her release is another small victory for the power of non-violent resistance and principled political pressure, and for that small ray of sunshine in a world driven by violence, we should all be grateful.
Stephen Yolland, Australia

In s

The junta has the tacit backing of the international community

R Rezel, Manchester, UK
In short, no. A democratic government under the leadership of a courageous leader like Aung San Suu Kyi is not conducive to the exploitation of Burma's rich natural resources by multinational corporations. The world did nothing to topple the military dictatorship in Nigeria because a certain well known oil company was gleefully exploiting the oil deposits of that country. We watched and waited while Ken Saro Wiwa, the activist who fought for the rights of the exploited people was hanged. The question is, what did we do when Ms Suu Kyi was placed in house arrest in the first place? When the 1988 election where she won 80% of the vote was annulled? When at least 10,000 of her supporters were brutally murdered?

The junta has the tacit backing of the international community. It was only few years ago that they were welcomed to the Association of South-east Asian Nations (ASEAN).They will periodically release Ms Suu Kyi for a couple of years, before consigning her back to her home-cum-prison. This is so that the international community can say "Look, see? They are interested in change, we should engage in dialogue with them." Dialogue, not about restoring democracy, but about gaining access to the remaining natural resources of the country. Dialogue about how to further exploit the cheap labour. As for the international community applying any real pressure to oust the tin pot dictatorship... I am not holding my breath.
R Rezel, Manchester, UK

Burmese people need human rights since we are human beings

Aung Chun, Jamaica
Of course we are happy for our leader's release. I just feel that we, Burmese people need human rights since we are human beings. We do not have human rights at all in Burma. No one needs to be afraid of any one unless having reasons. The Burmese junta talk so much about patriotism but I just want to say if their attitude on people and the country is not sincere, it is better not to do anything. The people who have been suffering about 40 years under a dictatorship sincerely believe the ones who have to try for unity, peace and stability for the country are not people but only the junta. Because the students and people have loved it since the beginning. We will walk on our journey for democracy with unity, discipline, and of course caution under the guidance of our leader Daw Aung San Suu Kyi. Whoever wants to help their own country, sincerity and conscience are the most important. We, the majority of Burmese people are pure Buddhists who do not like dictatorship and cruelty. We will be united.
Aung Chun, Jamaica

The military regime has been rooted in Burma for almost 40 years, and its arm-power overwhelms the unarmed pro-democracy groups in Burma. So, it is wiser to work with the current military regime to transform Burma into a democratic country rather than taking alternative routes to democracy. In the meantime, please don't forget the starving ordinary people in Burma. Immediate humanitarian aids in food, medicines and educations are essential.
Jtun, Canada

Burmese intellectuals abroad welcome the news but prefer to wait and see the real change to democratic rule led by Aung San Suu Kyi. Once the best in South East Asia, Burma is now one of the poorest. When freedom from fear rules in Burma under Aung San Suu Kyi, most living abroad will go back home and participate in the country's rebuilding. Give room for the military to have freedom from fear for their own life and property. Have a big heart and do not revenge, so that Aung San Suu Kyi will be allowed to lead the country, the sooner the better.
Wai, USA,

I agree with people who say 'wait and see.' I am happy that Suu Kyi is released but military junta has been lying to everyone for over a decade. I don't want to be optimistic about this news at this time. So, let's wait and see.
Florence, USA

The military junta ran Burma to the ground as demonstrated by the economic mess and extreme social deprivation they have created. These dinosaurs must go. Burma needs our help and the international community must do what it takes to give democracy a chance to thrive, including economic aid.
Tam, UK

Let's hope the democratic leader stays free

Caroline Walcot, Belgium
If Aung San Suu Kyi had the patience to endure 19 months of house arrest without whinging to the media, I think we should be patient for 19 days or 19 weeks to see how the people of Burma react to this positive signal. It is their country, and they would not want any opportunity blown by outsiders building up high expectations. That's not Asia's way. Let's hope the democratic leader stays free and pray for her success.
Caroline Walcot, Belgium

Caution and more work tomorrow but for one day let's just be happy!
Storm NY, USA

This is not the first time that Aung San Suu Kyi has been released from house arrest. In July 1995, SLORC, as the Burmese regime was then known, released her from six years of house arrest, during which her coalition party, the NLD, won a landslide electoral victory. The junta refused to hand over power. Suu Kyi's release then, as now, was party thanks to international pressure. But the world's attention soon wandered and Suu Kyi's freedom was increasingly restricted. As a reporter in Thailand in the early 1990s, I met many people who had been rounded up by SLORC and made to carry food and weapons to the frontlines where the hated Burmese army was fighting the Karen, one of several ethnic minorities who have been struggling for independence since 1947.
Gavin Lewis, UK

I welcome every step towards democracy

Joe Bindloss, UK
After making several trips to Burma over the years, I welcome every step towards democracy for the long-suffering people of this wonderful nation. However, I find it deeply worrying that the people who are most applauding the liberation of Aung San Suu Kyi - namely Britain and the US - are the same people who have been campaigning for the right of foreign businesses to exploit Burma's natural resources. I wonder whether politicians in Whitehall would be so interested in Burma's democracy struggle if they weren't equally interested in the country's oil and timber reserves?
Joe Bindloss, UK

This is heartening news indeed. At this stage, we can only hope the military junta's moves are a genuine step towards restoring democracy to the cruelly oppressed people of Burma. No praise is high enough for Aung San Suu Kyi for the stand she has made for the people of that country.
Graham, The Netherlands

What is important at this juncture is to revive the economy and let foreign companies also play an important role in reviving the economy of Myanmar.
Christina Rajendren, Sri Lanka

The military must release all political prisoners and draw up an agenda to begin the process of democratisation

Robert Peters, Australia
The unconditional release of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi is most welcome. This eventful day will go down in Burma's history as a day when the forces of democracy overcame the forces of power and injustice. The future of Burma should be for the betterment of its long-suffering citizens. The time has come for everyone interested in Burma's future to combine their efforts to eliminate pain and suffering. This can only be achieved through trust and hard work. The military regime has called it a day marking a new page for the people of Burma and the international community. Words alone cannot bring about change. It is action that is needed. They must be ready to sit down with the NLD, other political parties and the ethnic groups and draw up a constitution that will be acceptable to the Burmese people and thus begin the reconciliation process. They must also release all political prisoners and draw up an agenda to begin the process of democratisation. If the military regime were sincere in its process of change, there would be no need for the carrot and stick approach.
Robert Peters, Australia

I think this is just the beginning. There is a lot more to be done. It is not right for military rulers to control some of the most peaceful people in the world. Democracy cannot pave its way into Burma as long as the military is in power. The international community needs to do a lot more to drive out the military dictators who dishonoured the election results from a few years ago where the NLD had a landslide victory. Ang's release is a good start, but there more work to do before we can be realistically hope to see Burma transformed into a democracy.
Bhasu, USA

Whatever happens, we as a country have to stand on our own two feet. We have suffered long enough from British imperialism, of which the military junta can be said to have derived from to unite the country. An understanding of freedom and establishing democracy will take time for our people, but with Aung San Suu Kyi, and the peaceful minds of her and my Burmese people, I'm certain that a peaceful move toward democracy is not far away.
Ekapot Srisakuna, Burma/UK

The military has to admit defeat and recreate its role as a non-political entity

Thiha Thura, Australia
Let's not forget what Daw Suu's father Bogyoke Aung San said when he gave his speech to the public before gaining independence: "We cannot gain our independence just by hoping and wishing away, we will have to work very hard - flat out." For us, the release of Daw Suu is just the beginning. The release of other political prisoners has to follow. The military has to admit defeat and recreate its role as a non-political entity with its primary role of defence of the country. The people of Burma have to realise how easy it is to lose the democratic rights that we once had and how hard it is to fight and regain them. There should be no excuse for the military to step into politics again. The majority have to realise too that other nationalities and other ethnic minorities need to have their own rights protected by law and they should have the right to autonomy. There's still a long road ahead of us but the journey of a thousand miles begins with the first step.
Thiha Thura, Australia

Aung San Suu Kyi's (hopefully) unrestricted release is the beginning. She now needs all the patience, tolerance, pragmatism and compassion that her Buddhist background has engendered in her to guide her in leading the people of Burma to a decent existence. I hope the international community will do all they can to help her in her task.
Myint Su, Scotland

I am proud that a Malaysian United Nations envoy was able to make a possible deal with the junta for the release of Aung San Suu Kyi. I hope that she and her supporters will keep clear of violence by not retaliating against the junta for progress and develop together with other third world countries. I do admire the courage and will in her as a symbol of women in politics. May God bless her and the people of Burma.
Udayaman Kutty, Malaysia

This indeed is the greatest news of the year. I hope the junta eventually realise the tremendous loss we have incurred. I now need to go back home and spend some lost time with long lost friends.
Tin Mg Oo, Canada

We can't afford to suffer again for power play

Maung Aung, USA
I welcome the current situation but we haven't got democracy yet. Both sides need to practice and build a concrete relationship. All need to focus on what is the best for our country and let's move to build a stable democratic government as soon as possible with a careful approach. We can't afford to suffer again for power play.
Maung Aung, USA

It's great news to see Aung San Suu Kyi free again. It must be a great lift for the Burmese people and her loyal supporters who have endured so much. Still it is only one step in the long journey to proper freedom and democracy. Best wishes to her. May her resolve remain strong.
Baz D, Ireland

This is not the first time that the Burmese military have carried out an action which seems to hint at loosening their control. They have carried out similar 'liberalisation' measures once every decade since the 1960s. Each time, the measures were carried out to test the waters, gauge the level of support for the opposition and to reaffirm military control thereafter. So frankly speaking, I am really sceptical about this latest move. Furthermore, the regime has just experienced an abortive coup, thus it is even more unlikely that it will want to loosen control now.
Marilyn Lim, Singapore

I am very optimistic after hearing about the release of Aung San Suu Kyi. I hope our Japanese government will play its part in making the democracy talks easier.
Yamada Taro, Japan

I hope it will bring significant change for the people of Burma who have been living under fear and oppression by the military government for far too long. They really deserve to finally join the world democratic community!
Dave, Belgium

We should wait and see

Dr B T Win, Canada
We should wait and see. The generals are very crafty, and some of them are evil genius. In their heart of hearts they just wants to maintain their power. Their follow up actions will speak louder than their words.
Dr B T Win, Canada

Though there's a long way to go before we see the "real democracy" in Myanmar [Burma], the international community, beginning with Japan and other G-8 countries, should extend a welcome gesture to the regime, for taking this all important positive step towards national reconciliation (albeit seemingly reluctantly and under world pressure).
Maung Win, Singapore

While I am happy that she has been released after many years, this appears to be nothing more than a political act done in reaction to world events. The international community should welcome her release but have a wait-and-see approach to see if this is real change or political blue smoke and mirrors.
Wayne Robertson, USA

The Burmese military junta has been lying to its people and international community for over a decade - the world still has to be cautious about the release of Aung San Suu Kyi. Unless the junta proves they are genuinely trying to improve the country's image, we should not be optimistic about this news yet.
Thomas, USA

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See also:

06 May 02 | Asia-Pacific
30 Apr 02 | Asia-Pacific
28 Apr 02 | Asia-Pacific
24 Apr 02 | Asia-Pacific
24 Apr 02 | Asia-Pacific
19 Mar 02 | Asia-Pacific
22 Mar 02 | Asia-Pacific
30 Jan 02 | Asia-Pacific
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