The release of Aung San Suu Kyi, the Burmese prisoner of conscience has seen the Western media go in to overdrive. Many see her release as a political victory for democracy and Western leaders fell over themselves to endorse her release. Barak Obama said: “She is a hero of mine and a source of inspiration for all who work to advance basic human rights in Burma and around the world. The United States welcomes her long overdue release.” Whilst British leader David Cameron said “Aung San Suu Kyi is an inspiration for all of us who believe in freedom of speech, democracy and human rights.”
Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy party won the 1990 general election in Burma however the results were nullified, and the military refused to hand over power. Aung San Suu Kyi was placed under house arrest at her home, where she has remained for almost 15 of the 21 years from 1990.
Whilst one would expect Western nations to endorse pro-democracy leaders because they believe in the very same values that underpin western governments, we find however this is selective.
In many cases Western nations have supported dictators, authoritarian leaders and endorsed the nullification of elections when non-democrats clearly gained the majority vote.
The West supported the nullification of elections in Algeria in 1991, when the Islamic Salvation Front won the first round of the country’s first multi-party elections. The military intervened and cancelled the second round. It forced then-president Bendjedid to resign and banned all political parties based on Islam. A political conflict ensued, leading Algeria into a violent Civil War.
Secretary of State James Baker later explained, “We pursued a policy of excluding the radical fundamentalists in Algeria even as we recognized that this was somewhat at odds with our support of democracy.”
In Palestine both the US and Israel worked to undermine and refused to work with the democratically elected HAMAS government.
Across the world we also see that the West has no problems working with unelected leaders, military dictators or royal families if it protects Western interests. Western political leaderships rarely criticise Saudi Arabia’s unelected royal family or Hosni Mubarak who, in the last few decades, is always elected with an apparent mandate a US president can only dream of.
The US has no problems doing business with Karimov of Uzbekistan, who boils alive devout religious opponents of his oppressive rule, or former General Musharraf who came to power in a military coup and ruled Pakistan for nearly a decade locking up the judiciary in the process.
Whilst the west’s support for Burma has always been restricted to mere statements this development is significant as Burma is considered a nation in the orbit of Chinese ambitions of controlling the Asia Pacific – something the west and the US in particular are fundamentally opposed to.
This episode has shown the insincerity of the West to its own values. Whilst they travel around the world promoting democracy as the only system for the world, for them the end justifies the means if it impacts their national interests, even at the expense of undermining their own values.