Cyclone Nargis had blown the roof off Aung San Suu Kyi’s home in Yangon. In the midst of the havoc wreaked by the cyclone in Myanmar, this could not have been a sign for the unleashing of any liberating force. The Myanmarese junta has now extended Ms Suu Kyi’s house arrest for another indefinite term. Nobody knows how long this extension is for. The secretiveness is characteristic of General Than Shwe’s ruthless and corrupt dictatorship. So is the fact that the General is breaking his own laws by extending Ms Suu Kyi’s detention order past five years, after which she has to be tried or freed. The daughter of Myanmar’s independence hero and leader of the National League for Democracy has been under house arrest for 12 of the last 18 years, and continuously since May 2003. During that time, she became a Nobel laureate and a widow, kept apart first from her dying husband and now from her two sons. What then are her prospects, and those of the NLD and of Myanmar itself?
Nothing seems to change the inscrutable will of Myanmar’s military rulers. After the death of hundreds of thousands, and with millions still displaced and starving, the General forced a referendum on his devastated country to get a draft constitution approved. The first vote since the one overridden by the junta in 1990, these elections, the rulers claim, proved that 92.4 per cent of the populace approve of a draft constitution, which will pave the way for democratic elections in two years’ time. However, the proposed constitution keeps a large proportion of seats in the parliament for the army and junta supporters, and bars opposition leaders like Ms Suu Kyi from holding office. So the United Nations secretary-general’s optimistic sense of having made a breakthrough with the General over international aid for cyclone victims might look naïve to more hardened spectators. Seeming to make concessions for, and engagements with, the envoy initially, only to turn hostile and absolute in the end has been the pattern of the junta’s dealings with the UN or the Association of Southeast Asian Nations for years now. The recent past has shown that neither civilians nor monks, at their most peaceful, have been spared the junta’s relentlessly violent quelling of dissent. So there is hardly any reason to hope that a combination of the world’s outrage and Ms Suu Kyi’s unique form of resistance would make a difference.