Aung San Suu Kyi will take part in 'decisive' Myanmar vote despite 'irregularities' (+video)
Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi expressed concern Friday that Myanmar's Sunday election will not be 'genuinely free and fair,' citing intimidation and interference.
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Instead, in a country where personalities, not policies, are key to political success, the NLD is relying on Suu Kyi’s charisma.Skip to next paragraph
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Indeed the future of Myanmar’s democratic reforms hinges crucially on her and on President Thein Sein, the man driving changes here, with whom she reached an understanding last August that led to her party’s participation in Sunday’s elections.
“It is the luck of the draw that we have Aung San Suu Kyi and Thein Sein where they are now,” says Khin Zaw Win, a former political prisoner who now runs civic education programs.
But after 50 years of military rule that destroyed trade unions, professional organizations, political parties, and all other institutions except the military itself and the Buddhist “sangha,” or community of monks, the personal relationship between the two leaders is a fragile basis on which to base Myanmar’s political future, say some analysts.
Suu Kyi herself acknowledged as much Friday, telling reporters that although she was “confident that [Thein Sein] genuinely wishes democratic reform … I’ve never been certain how much support he has, especially from the military.”
“Change has come because of a personal understanding between two people,” cautions Zaw Nyunt, a former Army captain who was driven into exile after seeking to create a labor union during an uprising against the military government in 1988. “Can genuine change come from this sort of personal relationship?”
Many citizens are uncertain of the government’s sincerity in its reforms, such as a relaxation of press censorship, tolerance of once-banned trade unions, and readiness to allow public expressions of support for Suu Kyi, previously treated officially as a non-person.
“But the fear has gone, and hope is emerging” among ordinary citizens that the changes under way since the current government took office a year ago are irreversible, says one European diplomat.
At the same time, he cautions, few expect the military to retire completely to their barracks after being at the heart of the nation since its foundation. Suu Kyi herself, a general’s daughter, has often appealed to the Army for its help in building a new Myanmar.
IN PICTURES: Aung San Suu Kyi
“The Army’s endgame is to remain the guarantor of national sovereignty and unity, and to be an actor with the legitimacy to intervene if things go badly,” as in neighboring Thailand, says the diplomat.
Sunday’s by-elections, a dress rehearsal for full-scale parliamentary elections due in 2015, will be one small step toward a genuine civilian role in government, and an early one at that. On a democratic scale of 1 to 10, Suu Kyi said Friday, “we are trying to reach 1.”
If the elections are tolerably free and fair, however, they will be “a real push on the democratic path and people will trust the government,” says one local journalist. “This is a trust-building process between the government and the people,” many of whom do not yet know what to make of the military’s dramatic change of course.
“I myself find it unbelievable,” says the journalist. “But I believe in it nonetheless.”
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