Opposition Leader Freed in Burma. Now What?


This weekend, the most exciting post-election-related—and indeed, liberty-related—news of the week occured in Burma, where the country's ruling military junta released pro-democracy advocate Aung San Suu Kyi after twenty years of house arrest. Last week, the junta, which has ruled the country since 1988 (and which took over from a previous military government that had ruled the country since 1964), won 75% of parliamentary seats in the country's first elections in 20 years, elections which were billed as the beginning of the its voluntarily transfer of power to civilian rule. The elections were fraudulent, of course, but the fact that they occurred at all, coupled with speculation that junta leader Than Shwe's could be giving up power sometime in the near future, mean that Burma might be on some kind of liberalizing track. 

Or not: through a meticulously rigged electoral process, the junta handed off power to a coterie of civilian proxies while maintaining the illusion of political reform. And while activists and commentators are justifiably thrilled at Suu Kyi's release, the fact that the junta waited until after the election to release her suggests that the decision was only tenuously linked to any real reformist impulses. If this past weekend's events prove anything, it's that the struggle for democracy in Burma is far from over, however inspiring images like these may be: