Amid the buzzing of tourists and commerce at Yangon’s most popular bazaar, shoppers gently slide past one another beneath an array of dangling T-shirts emblazoned with the image of Myanmar’s Aung San Suu Kyi accompanied by the words “our leader”.
Like much of Yangon, Bogyoke Market – named after her father and national hero, General Aung San – is a place where the Noble Peace Prize laureate continues to enjoy overwhelming support among the Burmese – the largest of the 135 ethnic groups in Myanmar.
This despite increasing condemnation from the international community over her handling of an emerging humanitarian crisis in western Rakhine state that over the past three weeks has seen more than 290,000 Rohingya Muslims flee into Bangladesh, and hundreds killed in new clashes with the military.
For the Burmese, who endured nearly six decades of violent oppression under a socialist, military government until Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) swept into power during the country’s first largely free general elections in 2015, they are content to reap the fruits of an economic and social revival that has afforded them the chance to live out their lives in relative peace.
“Aung San Suu Kyi knows things and I’m very happy. She sees things clearly for every problem,” said 40-year-old antique vendor Zaw Myo Htun, who attributed much of Myanmar’s recent integration in Southeast Asia to her.
Like most of the dozen Burmese interviewed by Al Jazeera for this story, Zaw Myo was hesitant to speak about the Rohingya crisis, but nonetheless had every confidence Suu Kyi would handle it.
“Together they [Suu Kyi and the military] are doing the work,” he said.
“I believe that she is still highly popular among the majority of Myanmar citizens here. I think that her popularity in city areas among the intellectual strata was threatened a lot, but there is no other option or alternative to fill up the leadership vacuum in Myanmar’s democratisation apart from Daw Aung San Suu Kyi,” he said.
According to several international groups, the blame for the situation prior to the latest violence was shared by both the military and powerful hardline nationalists, who for years incited anti-Muslim sentiment throughout Myanmar.
Since Suu Kyi took power, the government has focused considerable effort in curtailing Buddhist nationalism and pushing the top Buddhist authority in Myanmar to ban such groups, yet those efforts have been largely ineffective “and have probably even enhanced them”, the report said.
But the issue runs far deeper as anti-Muslim sentiment has progressively crept into many aspects of day-to-day life in Myanmar.
According to the same survey, 75 percent believed the country to be heading in the right direction.
Over the years, Buddhist nationalists have also used Myanmar’s biggest city Yangon as a staging ground for mass protests against the Muslim population.
Most recently on August 30, several hundred Buddhist nationalists, including monks, rallied in Yangon to urge stronger action against the Rohingya.
For the Burmese in Yangon, nearly 700km away from Rakhine, the problem is also one of reliable information as local media is seen by many as peddling their own agendas, while a majority of the population is now taking to notoriously untrustworthy social media accounts to find information.
In fact, little is actually known of the Muslim Rohingya population in Myanmar as the government chose to omit them from the country’s first nationwide census in 30 years that was published in May 2015.
Source: Al Jazeera News