June 14, 2021: After five years as the de facto leader of Myanmar, Aung San Suu Kyi finds herself in a familiar place: under house arrest while facing trumped-up charges levelled by a military dictatorship, with her party, the National League for Democracy (NLD), on the verge of dissolution.
On Monday, four months since the military seized power in a coup, the hugely popular politician will face trial in a Naypyidaw court on five charges including the illegal possession of walkie-talkies and breaking coronavirus restrictions while campaigning for elections. Military officials have also accused her of corruption and violating the colonial-era Official Secrets Act.
There is a sense of finality about this showdown between Aung San Suu Kyi, and army chief and coup leader, Min Aung Hlaing.
At 75-years-old, Aung San Suu Kyi is facing prison sentences that could put her in jail for the rest of her life, permanently sidelining her from a political arena she has defined for decades. Meanwhile, many of her supporters have moved beyond her past calls for non-violent resistance and gradual reform, instead endorsing armed revolt and the total overthrow of the military regime.
“This time around, there is no indication that the regime plans to release Aung San Suu Kyi, allow her to communicate with her supporters, or use her as a bargaining chip in its relations with the outside world. Rather, Min Aung Hlaing wants to have a free hand to shape the political landscape free from the influence of her and the NLD,” said Richard Horsey, a political analyst with decades of experience in Myanmar.
Despite being largely shut off from the outside world for the last four months, she still occupies a central role in the continuing political crisis. Before the generals violently cracked down on protests, killing more than 850 civilians, posters and banners featuring Aung San Suu Kyi’s face were a mainstay at most demonstrations.
“It’s far too early to write her off. She is without a doubt by far the most popular political figure in the country, no one else even comes close,” said Thant Myint-U, historian and author of the Hidden History of Burma.