the assumption of responsibility for the welfare of the world
1998 July 26
In Burma, democratic principal Aung San Suu Kyi has been halted in her car on a bridge by the military. She was attempting to leave Rangoon to visit supporters, and presumably fully aware that she would wander afoul of the government at some point.... The elections taking place in Cambodia have brought out massive numbers of voters, who are demonstrating again their support for democracy. But with Hun Sen in charge, there cannot be democracy. The campaign was certainly not free and fair, and Hun Sen has demonstrated already that he cannot be trusted to accept the will of the people.
1998 August 2
With Hun Sen claiming victory in the recent elections in Cambodia, his principal opponents Norodom Ranariddh and Sam Rainsy are threatening a boycott of the parliament, which would deny a quorum and thus the legal basis for a government. Not surprisingly, Hun Sen is threatening to push through a government without their participation. When he lost the last election, he insisted on the creation of a dual premiership specifically for him, with the possibility of renewed war as the menace behind the demand. After a short while, he ousted Norodom Ranariddh, the actual winner of the election, and ruled alone.
The invasion by Vietnam may have removed the Khmer Rouge and thus been a service to humanity. But Hun Sen, who rose to power through the regime installed by Vietnam, is far past claim to the service of anything but himself. He has come to view the autocracy of Cambodia as a personal possession. What he is promising now is another effective coup d’état. Perhaps he did win the election. But given his history, likely he would have attempted to rule regardless of the outcome of the election.
As with the death of Abiola, there is simply too much cause for suspicion here to be allayed by any neutral observer, however well respected. Would the Khmer have turned out in record numbers to support the individual who ousted their own chosen tribune? Would Hun Sen have stopped short of anything to skew the campaign and election process? If Hun Sen is officially pronounced the winner, it may be decades before any election can be trusted in Cambodia.
1998 August 2
The tale of the detention of Aung San Suu Kyi in her car on a bridge in Burma has ended in a fittingly-bizarre manner. The army simply sent a soldier into her car to drive her back to her home. For the moment, she is in effective house arrest once again, having spent six years confined there for the political crime of being the most popular politician in the state. She would democratically have become the highest official in Burma. Probably she would do so today, given a popular vote, despite the limitations placed upon her by the state. She cannot meet freely with supporters, she cannot travel freely, and thus she cannot organize, she cannot persuade, she cannot work to bring peaceful change to the country. Outsiders should thus not consider what has just happened as a violation of her civil rights. They should not be demanding that she be allowed to go about the business of seeking reform. They should see this as a violation of the rights of all Burma to be free from tyranny. They should be demanding that the business of seeking reform come to a successful conclusion already. Suu was not chosen by her fellow citizens to handle the agitation for democracy but rather to handle the political administration of the state. That is her business. Why can Madeleine Albright not say that?
1998 August 8
As democrats in Burma mark the tenth anniversary of the military’s smashing of a previous democracy surge (8888 ― 1988 August 8), Aung San Suu Kyi and her allies are making plans to finally convene the democratically-elected parliament elected in 1990. Now would be the appropriate time for international pressure on the junta ― a firm resolution that any interference with the parliament’s meeting will be unacceptable, and a swift recognition afterwards of its acts as the most legitimate representation of the will of the people of Burma. Failure to seize this chance will prolong the day of freedom for Burma, yet again. But who doubts the outcome?
1998 August 16
The alien protesters marking the tenth anniversary of a crushed democracy action (the 8888 uprising) in Burma were convicted of sedition and sentenced to five years in prison, with labor, but deported instead. Fortunate for them, though their ranks may have included a few would-be martyrs. But this act by the State Law and Order Restoration Council is clearly an act of public relations ― first, a cursory trial to show the awesome power of the junta to future dissidents, native and alien alike; then, a cursory pardon, to show the supposed mercy of the junta to the international community. Native dissidents get only one message, and indeed they get only one form of treatment. They will become slaves of the state. But perhaps that applies to everyone now living within the borders of Burma.
Meanwhile, Aung San Suu Kyi has made yet another attempt to travel out of Rangoon to meet with supporters, and has found herself in yet another automobile standoff with the military. It is tempting to view this situation as comic. But we must remember that this is a person being restricted from free travel in her native country because the government believes she carries a message that will stir up sentiment against it. Clearly the junta is afraid of the truth.
1998 August 30
Aung San Suu Kyi has ended a two-week hunger strike. Shades of Mohandas Gandhi are no accident, of course. But now we must marvel at the ability of one individual, Gandhi, to influence so many through so harmless an act as fasting. That counted on the power of symbolism to move hearts, through shame or even simple fear of looking bad before the world. In this, the most backwards fragment of the Empire of India, the government is impervious to such symbolism. All who care already know its true nature, and it is not moved by that fact.
But defiance of the SLORC continues, as two hundred students protest in the streets of Burma. These naturally represent only the most hardened and committed of activists, since there can be no question of their eventual fate, and no hope at present of a successful people-power revolt. Suu could fast for two years, the protests could attract two million, and the junta might still cling to power in its brutal way. But even such small numbers do raise hopes. The junta may sleep through protests of this sort. But it faces an awakening, that is clear.
1998 September 6
Meetings on the election impasse in Cambodia continue. The results are still in dispute. Eight thousand complaints have been effectively dismissed. Despite a ban by the Phnom Penh municipality, the opposition is planning a Sunday protest. Everything in Cambodia now revolves around Hun Sen. That has meant, unfortunately, that protests against the government have been tainted with some anti-Vietnam sentiment, a sentiment which led to the killing of five Vietnamese ethnics. But descendants of immigrants, or immigrants, or even citizens of Vietnam cannot be blamed for Hun Sen, despite the backing of Vietnam for Hun Sen. Nor can bigotry against Vietnam be blamed on Hun Sen. He is responsible only for his own actions. At present that responsibility includes a coup d’état, a pronounced autocracy, and a stifling of the beginnings of liberal and democratic society in Cambodia. He is not Pol Pot. But obviously there can be no development of an open society while Hun Sen is in place. And just as obviously, he will take every step to remain where he is.
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