Profile: Aung San Suu Kyi

  • 8 September 2015
  • From the section Asia
Myanmar pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi gives a speech on voter education at the Hsiseng township in Shan state, Myanmar, 5 September 2015 Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Aung San Suu Kyi has been frustrated by the pace of reforms in Myanmar

Aung San Suu Kyi, opposition leader in Myanmar, became an international symbol of peaceful resistance in the face of oppression as a result of her 15 years under house arrest.

The 70-year-old spent much of her time between 1989 and 2010 in some form of detention because of her efforts to bring democracy to military-ruled Myanmar (Burma).

In 1991, a year after her National League for Democracy (NLD) won an overwhelming victory in an election the junta later nullified, she was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

The committee chairman called her "an outstanding example of the power of the powerless".

She was sidelined for Myanmar's first elections in two decades on 7 November 2010 but released from house arrest six days later.

As the new government embarked on a process of reform, Aung San Suu Kyi - known to many as "The Lady" - and her party rejoined the political process.

On 1 April 2012 she stood for parliament in a by-election, arguing it was what her supporters wanted even if the country's reforms were "not irreversible".

She and her fellow NLD candidates won a landslide victory and weeks later the former political prisoner was sworn into parliament, a move unimaginable before the 2010 polls.

Barred from running

However, Ms Suu Kyi has since been frustrated with the pace of democratic development.

In November 2014, she warned that Myanmar had not made any real reforms in the past two years and warned that the US - which dropped most of its sanctions against the country in 2012 - had been "overly optimistic" in the past.

And in June, a vote in Myanmar's parliament failed to remove the army's veto over constitutional change. Ms Suu Kyi is also barred from running for president because her two sons hold British not Burmese passports - a ruling she says is unfair.

Although her party is popular, Ms Suu Kyi has come in for criticism since her election by some rights groups for what they say has been a failure to speak up for Myanmar's minority groups during a time of ethnic violence in parts of the country.

Political pedigree

Aung San Suu Kyi is the daughter of Myanmar's independence hero, General Aung San.

He was assassinated during the transition period in July 1947, just six months before independence, when Ms Suu Kyi was only two.

Image copyright AP
Image caption Ms Suu Kyi (centre) was a toddler when her father was assassinated

In 1960 she went to India with her mother Daw Khin Kyi, who had been appointed Myanmar's ambassador in Delhi.

Four years later she went to Oxford University in the UK, where she studied philosophy, politics and economics. There she met her future husband, academic Michael Aris.

After stints of living and working in Japan and Bhutan, she settled in the UK to raise their two children, Alexander and Kim, but Myanmar was never far from her thoughts.

When she arrived back in Rangoon (Yangon) in 1988 - to look after her critically ill mother - Myanmar was in the midst of major political upheaval.

Thousands of students, office workers and monks took to the streets demanding democratic reform.

"I could not as my father's daughter remain indifferent to all that was going on," she said in a speech in Rangoon on 26 August 1988, and was propelled into leading the revolt against the then-dictator, General Ne Win.

Inspired by the non-violent campaigns of US civil rights leader Martin Luther King and India's Mahatma Gandhi, she organised rallies and travelled around the country, calling for peaceful democratic reform and free elections.

But the demonstrations were brutally suppressed by the army, who seized power in a coup on 18 September 1988. Ms Suu Kyi was placed under house arrest the following year.

The military government called national elections in May 1990 which Aung San Suu Kyi's NLD convincingly won - however, the junta refused to hand over control.

House arrest

Ms Suu Kyi remained under house arrest in Rangoon for six years, until she was released in July 1995.

She was again put under house arrest in September 2000, when she tried to travel to the city of Mandalay in defiance of travel restrictions.

She was released unconditionally in May 2002, but just over a year later she was put in prison following a clash between her supporters and a government-backed mob.

Image copyright AFP
Image caption Huge crowds greeting Aung San Suu Kyi on her release from house arrest in 2010

She was later allowed to return home - but again under effective house arrest.

During periods of confinement, Ms Suu Kyi busied herself studying and exercising. She meditated, worked on her French and Japanese language skills, and relaxed by playing Bach on the piano.

At times she was able to meet other NLD officials and selected diplomats.

But during her early years of detention she was often in solitary confinement. She was not allowed to see her two sons or her husband, who died of cancer in March 1999.

The military authorities offered to allow her to travel to the UK to see him when he was gravely ill, but she felt compelled to refuse for fear she would not be allowed back into the country.

Her last period of house arrest ended in November 2010 and her son Kim Aris was allowed to visit her for the first time in a decade.

When by-elections were held in April 2012, to fill seats vacated by politicians who had taken government posts, she and her party contested seats, despite reservations.

"Some are a little bit too optimistic about the situation," she said in an interview before the vote. "We are cautiously optimistic. We are at the beginning of a road."

She and the NLD won 43 of the 45 seats contested, in an emphatic statement of support. Weeks later, Ms Suu Kyi took the oath in parliament and became the leader of the opposition.

And the following May, she embarked on a visit outside Myanmar for the first time in 24 years, in a sign of apparent confidence that its new leaders would allow her to return.

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