Aung San Suu Kyi steps up

Exactly one year after her release from nearly two decades of house arrest, Aung San Suu Kyi seems be on the threshold of a new role in Myanmar, still in opposition to the military-backed civilian regime, but no more standing outside the political system that it has set up. Earlier this month, the government changed the rule that required political parties to “preserve” the military-drafted 2008 Constitution; they are now expected to “respect and obey” it. This change has paved the way for Ms Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy to register as a political party. NLD leaders are likely to meet later this month to take the call. Indications are that the regime is thinking of setting some 600 political prisoners free. If it does so, it will make the decision easier for the NLD. The party boycotted last year’s elections, but it is now widely expected that Ms Suu Kyi will contest an election in December, and thus enter Parliament. On the first anniversary of her release on Monday, the Nobel laureate told journalists that the Myanmar regime had taken some steps towards political reform. She described recent developments in the country as “eventful, energising and, to a certain extent, encouraging.” One of these was a statement by the Speaker of the Parliament’s Upper House, Aung Khin Myint, that he recognised the results of the 1990 election. The NLD swept the 1990 polls, and it was following that victory the junta put Ms Suu Kyi in what turned out to be the first of long spells of detention for the next two decades.

Ms Suu Kyi’s latest move towards reconciliation with the same people who imprisoned her is not a sign of weakness on her part. Clearly, the iconic leader, who made great personal sacrifices as she spearheaded the pro-democracy movement, would not have responded to the regime were she not convinced that an opportunity now exists to unshackle Myanmar from a past that had kept the country isolated and led to the impoverishment of its people. The Thein Sein regime launched the process of reform with the realisation that the previous model of authoritarian governance had become untenable and unsustainable. The regime needs Ms Suu Kyi’s participation in the project for political credibility. True, the Myanmar military still has the power to call off the reforms process, but its positive attitude to the changes that President Thein Sein has ushered — radical, by Myanmar’s standards — suggests that it is on board. Without doubt, the changes in Myanmar represent its best chance to emerge from a five-decade-long wilderness.

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