Current Affairs

Aung San Suu Kyi: from St. Hugh’s College to the Myanmar coup

As demonstrations and global condemnations continue in response to the recent coup in Myanmar, The Oxford Blue takes a look at the events so far and explore Aung San Suu Kyi’s connection to Oxford.

Late last Tuesday evening, the Myanmar military raided and destroyed the National League of Democracy (NLD) headquarters in Yangon, the latest in a series of unfolding events following the nation’s election in November.

On February 1st, the army, led by Min Aung Hlaing, took control of the country, declaring a state of emergency, handing power to the army for a year. Myint Swe, a former general, has been installed as Acting President, whilst Suu Kyi, President Win Myint and other civilian leaders have been taken into custody. In addition, 24 of Suu Kyi’s ministers have been dismissed.

Suu Kyi became Myanmar’s State Counsellor – in effect, prime minister – in 2015, when her party, the National League for Democracy, won the country’s general election.

Amnesty International labelled the events “extremely alarming”, and various nations have condemned the actions of General Hlaing, who insists he wishes to form “a true and disciplined democracy”. This has been in contrast to Hlaing’s lack of cooperation with the civilian government and Aung San Suu Kyi, whose popularity he is said to be resentful of.

The US government has called upon the general to step down, restore the government and remove the telecommunications restrictions that have been placed on civilians. However, the general has not met these demands, and has denied US requests to speak with Suu Kyi. The EU is currently exploring ways to sanction the Myanmar army without coming down on the people.

On the 8th February, the army also declared martial law in seven Myanmar districts, following a series of protests across the south-eastern Asian nation, building upon growing civil unrest and anger at the army who many civilians feel are “betraying the country” and attacking democracy. Protesters have come from various backgrounds, including students, government workers and teachers.

Protesters have been met with projectiles, water cannons and tear gas, and some have been shot with rubber bullets. Influenced by the protests, Hlaing made a televised speech, claiming that “voter fraud” in the election justified the coup – claims that the country’s election commission have dismissed.

Suu Kyi, now aged 75, is under house arrest, accused of possessing seven illegally imported walkie talkies, a violation of the nation’s import and export law. Suu Kyi studied Politics, Philosophy and Economics (PPE) at St Hugh’s College, Oxford in the 1960s, and the college has expressed its concern about the Myanmar coup. After graduation, she continued to reside in the city after time in Japan and Bhutan, until returning to what was then Burma in 1988.

Suu Kyi, daughter of Myanmar independence hero Gen. Aung San, has campaigned for democracy and human rights, travelling across Myanmar to organise rallies and call for peaceful elections. In 1990, Suu Kyi’s NLD won the military-called general election, but the junta refused to transfer power. As a result, she remained under house arrest until 1995, before being detained again in 2000 after defying military travel restrictions.

Suu Kyi’s campaigning in the face of oppression led to her becoming an international figure, much in the vein of her father. For her efforts, she was awarded the 1991 Nobel Peace Prize, whilst still under house arrest, in addition to the Freedom of the City of Oxford in 1997. The St Hugh’s Junior Common Room was named after Suu Kyi, with an official portrait residing at the college’s entrance.

In 2015, after spending most of her return to Myanmar in detention, Suu Kyi led the NLD to a landslide victory in the election, defeating the army alongside other parties. However, she was not able to become president due to Article 59F of the constitution. Her two sons possessed British passports – counting as an “allegiance to a foreign power”.

However, Suu Kyi’s international reputation has been damaged due to her defence of Myanmar and its military’s role in the brutal attacks on the country’s Rohingya Muslim population, led by Gen. Hlaing. Because of this, her Freedom of the City of Oxford was revoked, and any notable mention of the State Counsellor was stripped from St Hugh’s College.

Image Credits: Wikimedia Commons

Molayo Ogunde

Molayo is a Christian and musician outside his studies and role as a News Editor. He likes to write on a range of topics, from Oxford news to international affairs. Having grown up in London, he has grown up amidst diversity and is a strong advocate of letting all voices be heard.