BANGKOK — HUMILIATED in national elections in May, Burma's ruling generals ignore the winning opposition and keep its leader under house arrest. Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, who galvanized the landslide victory from house arrest, begins her second year under military detention today.
Recently, the military junta said the charismatic politician would not be freed, and stonewalled opposition demands for her release and the right to form a new government.
The military government called the election, hoping it would boost Burma's bleak image abroad. Instead, it catapulted Ms. Suu Kyi as a symbol of resistance to Army rule and repression and gave her National League for Democracy (NLD) more than 80 percent of the seats in a new national assembly.
``They misread the election and expected no clear-cut winner,'' says a senior diplomat contacted by telephone in the Burmese capital, Rangoon. ``It's almost as if this election didn't take place.''
The poll has left Burma, a once-promising country that slid into economic decline and isolation under the 28-year-rule of strongman Ne Win, in political limbo.
Although officially retired, the general is the real power behind the military junta. Many Burmese believe he engineered the events that led to the 1988 crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrators in which more than 3,000 people are believed to have been killed, Western observers say.
A year ago, the military government, known as the State Law and Order Restoration Council, detained Suu Kyi for holding political rallies without official permission.
She is the daughter of Aung San, the founder of modern Burma and a onetime associate of Ne Win in the country's independence struggle against the British.
Suu Kyi became the most prominent leader of the pro-democracy movement after returning from exile abroad in 1988, but has often been attacked by members of the often xenophobic military regime for being susceptible to foreign influence.
Recently, Maj. Gen. Khin Nyunt, the head of military intelligence and believed to be the second most powerful leader in Burma, said the military government would not buckle under to international demands for the opposition leader's release. He also warned her party not to try to take control of the government in the wake of its election triumph.
The National Unity Party, which was backed by the Army, made an embarrassingly poor showing in the election. The opposition NLD won strongly even in areas dominated by the Army and family members.
However, Western diplomats in Rangoon question if the opposition can mobilize and take power against the stubborn military. In June, the NLD asked for talks with the junta on a transfer of power. The opposition also demanded the release of Suu Kyi.
Under law, the government is required to convene a new national assembly whose first job will be to draw up a new constitution. Then, the government will consider turning over power to elected officials.
However, confused and uneasy after the election outcome, the military rulers already are dragging their feet in calling the new assembly. The junta insists that first objections to the election must be heard before the political process can go forward.
Western observers say that the earliest a new assembly could meet would be in the fall, if it is allowed to organize at all.
In the meantime, military intelligence has actively tried to promote divisions within the National League for Democracy, Rangoon diplomats and Burmese observers in Bangkok say. The opposition group is split between student and intellectual supporters of Suu Kyi and supporters with links to the military.
They question if the party can mobilize against the Army. The league is cut off from its most prominent leader and has been affected by the forced relocation of hundreds of thousands of city dwellers before the election - a move aimed at weakening urban strongholds, Western observers say.