The Lady of Steel


By Dr Wong Wee Nam

Aung San Suu Kyi is a remarkable woman. If she had not gone back to Burma, we would not have been able to witness the steel beneath a deceptively frail-looking housewife.

She became a politician overnight because of circumstances. Even under the same circumstances, not many would be able to achieve what she did. Considering the circumstances she was in, she really has to be an exceptional person. It takes a lot of extraordinary guts and conviction to fight against tyranny and struggle for freedom, especially in a country that had only known of rule with guns. In such a situation, there must be freedom from fear and no ordinary person can achieve that. In awarding Ms Aung San Suu Kyi the Nobel Prize in 1991, the people who made the award recognised that.

She said, “Fearlessness may be a gift but perhaps more precious is the courage acquired through endeavour, courage that comes from cultivating the habit of refusing to let fear dictate one’s actions, courage that could be described as ‘grace under pressure’ — grace which is renewed repeatedly in the face of harsh, unremitting pressure.” Such a statement shows the person she is.

Fear, as Aung San Suu Kyi explains, tends to be the order of the day when a system denies the existence of basic human rights.

“Fear of imprisonment, fear of torture, fear of death, fear of losing friends, family, property or means of livelihood, fear of poverty, fear of isolation, fear of failure. A most insidious form of fear is that which masquerade as common sense or even wisdom, condemning as foolish, reckless, insignificant or futile the small, daily acts of courage which help to preserve man’s self-respect and inherent human dignity. It is not easy for a people conditioned by fear under the iron rule of the principle that might is right to free themselves from the enervating miasma of fear. Yet even under the most crushing state machinery courage rises up again and again, for fear is not the natural state of civilised man.”

Singaporeans could reflect on such pearls of wisdom. A lot of Singaporeans who have lived with such fears before can certainly empathise with such an illuminating description. How many opposition figures in Singapore have not been told by their friends and families that their participation in the opposing camps has been foolish, reckless or futile?

In the Myanmar’s 2015 General Election, Aung San Suu Kyi and her National League for Democracy (NLD) Party has scored a landslide victory, and with the military junta conceding defeat, ready to form the next government. This is a very big step forward in the democratic process for the Burmese people and their country. As long as The Lady continues to inspire her countrymen, there is no reason why Myanmar should not continue to progress on this route.

It is her belief that:

“Democracy is something one must nourish all one’s life, if it is to remain alive and strong. Like the health of a person: even if his parents have raised him to healthy adulthood, if he fails to take care of himself, his health will deteriorate. If each of you keeps in mind all your life that you have a responsibility for the welfare of your country, then we shall have no reason to worry that our country’s health will deteriorate.”

It would be good for Singapore to understand such universal truths, if we are to release the apron string from the nanny state. By not moving in tandem with the march of history, we would soon be overtaken by Myanmar and our economic and political process will soon lag behind.

Myanmar may have just started to take a small baby-step towards democracy, but their political thoughts inspired by The Lady is far more mature than what we have in Singapore. If we want to alter the course of a nation’s development, from a materialistic society to a moral one, there is a need to change the mental attitudes and values that shape it.

To Aung San Suu Kyi, a spirit that aims “merely at changing official policies and institutions with a view to an improvement in material conditions” has little chance of genuine success. This would only allow “the forces of the old order to continue to be operative, posing a constant threat to the process of reform and regeneration.”

In Singapore most of our opposition political parties do not really offer alternative ideas or ideology to the ruling party. They merely try to offer tweaks “with a view to offer an improvement in material conditions”. This is like trying to talk the ruling party to get them to modify a little of their policies without really offering an alternative. By doing so, they can never provide the leadership for real reform or change.

With such changes in the political climate going on around the region, the People’s Action Party (PAP) has to realise the importance of peoples’ views in formulating policies. Shortly after the 2015 General Election they are humble enough to promise to work harder to engage a new generation of more vocal Singaporeans.

What then must the government do to engage a new generation of more vocal Singaporeans?

For a start, it is necessary that no political party should question the competence of the people to judge what is good for our country. It is for our people to determine what composition a parliament should take. No one should get upset over this. The collective will of the people should be the important judge of what is best for it citizens, their families and our nation, and rightly so.

This may need some conscious effort given that many of our ministers have spent their working lives as military commanders or top civil servants used to barking orders than listening to subordinates. It is therefore hard for a political party, filled with such top brass and scholars not to believe it has the sole wisdom to see what is good for our people. Is it a myth that our people are too immature to decide our future, too stupid to see far ahead and too unfit for political responsibility?

The Prime Minister also noted that the government has now to consult, adjust, explain and consider what everyone wants. This is a correct attitude to take. Even the great strategist and statesman of The Three Kingdom fame, Zhuge Liang had called for views from all quarters in order for him to govern well (集思矿益)Hopefully, the new Singapore will provide more opportunities for people to discuss and debate issues, and a free flow of information so that we can have an objective analysis of the problems confronting us.

At some point in our past, our people have been treated like helpless babies who needed to be put under the care of a nanny. For real change, our citizens need to feel that they can think and speak freely as respected human beings. They must not feel the restraint to differ and criticise. The differences of opinion must not be seen as a confrontation and a challenge to the authorities. Only then can we work towards a system where differing views do not lay the grounds for conflict, but pave the way for settlement through genuine dialogue.

The result of election in Myanmar is an attempt at restoring some fundamental human rights to its people. Are our people confident in their rights and ability to decide the destiny of their future and our nation?