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Burma’s Aung San Suu Kyi pushes for presidency

2013-06-27
Analysis by Martin Sieff
Election in Burma: Burma opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who plans to run for president in the next election, waves to supporters June 19 as she leaves the National League for Democracy headquarters in Yangon. [AFP]

Election in Burma: Burma opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who plans to run for president in the next election, waves to supporters June 19 as she leaves the National League for Democracy headquarters in Yangon. [AFP]

Aung San Suu Kyi, Burma’s charismatic opposition leader, has confirmed her ambition to run for her country’s presidency in 2015 – and she has taken a first, crucial step toward negotiating the deal she must make with the country’s army if she hopes to rule effectively.

Suu Kyi, 68, spoke with confidence during the June 6 meeting of the World Economic Forum in Burma’s new capital Naypyidaw.

“I want to run for president and I am quite frank about that,” she told financial and business leaders and potential investors from more than 50 countries.

“There are those who say that I shouldn’t say that I want to run for the presidency, but if I pretend that I don’t want to, I wouldn’t be honest, and I want to be honest to my people.”

Aung San Suu Kyi support: Supporters of Burma opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi take pictures of themselves beside a wall adorned with her portrait. [AFP]

Aung San Suu Kyi support: Supporters of Burma opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi take pictures of themselves beside a wall adorned with her portrait. [AFP]

Suu Kyi remains among the most popular political leaders in Burma. While her National League for Democracy [NLD] won the parliamentary by-elections last year by wide margins, 312 of the 440 seats in the Pyithu Hluttaw, or House of Representatives, Burma’s parliament, are held by the army-controlled Union Solidarity and Development Party and its allies.

Shihoko Goto, an Asian affairs analyst at the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington, D.C., said the Army probably would not be unable to withstand a national wave of support for Suu Kyi.

Goto said Suu Kyi enjoyed the same kind of nationwide support that led to the eventual victories of other popular democratic leaders including Lech Walesa in Poland and Megawati Sukarnoputri in Indonesia.

“There is a widespread perception that eventually she will win,” Goto said. “This perception is an enormous advantage for her. It is boosting her support both domestically and on the international scene. People want to get in on the ground floor with the next leader.”

Suu Kyi takes campaign message from village to city

Suu Kyi is at work consolidating her support in regions around the country eager to try to win more autonomy from the central government.

On June 18, she met at her home in Rangoon, Burma’s biggest city and former capital, with ethnic leaders from five parties around the country in the United Nationalities Alliance and won their support to change the 2008 constitution, with the longer-term goal of creating a federal political system, The Irrawaddy news magazine reported.

“Daw Suu said Burma definitely needs the federal system, although she does not think it will happen immediately. But she urged that the issue [federalism] needs to be raised over time,” The Irrawaddy quoted U Aye Thar Aung, head of the Arakan League for Democracy.

Suu Kyi, however, knows that no change to the constitution is possible unless the army generals backing President Thein Sein, a retired general himself, agree to it.

“Miss Suu Kyi seems to be doing her best to reassure the generals,” The Economist magazine noted in its June 15 edition. It noted that earlier in June she acknowledged what she called the “special place in the hearts of our people” held by the army, which, The Economist noted, had previously “kept her in various degrees on confinement for two decades.”

“Suu Kyi should not be underestimated. She is sincere in her democratic convictions but she is also a realist,” Goto said. “She knows she has to think about Burma’s prospects in the long term and that she has to create a lasting foundation for economic growth. So she recognizes the need for domestic stability to attract foreign direct investment.”

Goto said Suu Kyi’s combination of broad national popularity and charisma, her standing as the leader of Burma’s repressed opposition for more than 20 years and her new, so far successful initiative in reaching out to outlying regions, ensured her standing as the outstanding public figure in Burma’s continued road toward freedom and democracy.

Suu Kyi faces issues if she runs for office

The Burmese constitution excludes anyone with a husband, wife, or children who are citizens of another country from holding high office. This would apply to Suu Kyi, whose husband was a British academic. Michael Aris died in 1999 and their two sons are British citizens.

In addition, by practicing some political pragmatism, Suu Kyi has dented her previous standing around the world, especially in the human rights community.

“Miss Suu Kyi’s halo has even slipped among foreign human-rights lobbyists, disappointed at her failure to make a clear stand on behalf of the Rohingya minority, Muslims in the country’s west, who suffer terrible discrimination. But in an example of the fine line she must tread, some Burmese were upset when last month she spoke out against a ban on Rohingya families near the Bangladeshi border having more than two children,” according to The Economist report.

Suu Kyi also raised concerns among younger NLD members that she is autocratic and unwilling to listen to political subordinates and allies in formulating policy.

The Economist noted concerns about her inexperience and lack of interest and engagement in crucial, bread and butter economic issues, something President Thein Sein has shown a sure touch for.

The Economist, though critical of her on some economic issues, acknowledged that “Miss Suu Kyi, however, has one unassailable strong point. She may be misinformed, misguided, even high-handed. But nobody questions her fundamental integrity, nor her desire to do the best for [Burma’s] people.

What is the likelihood of amending Burma’s constitution to ease Suu Kyi’s presidential ambitions? Share your thoughts in the comment sections below.

 

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