Embracing Myanmar's promise cautiously
November 30th, 2011
06:28 PM ET

Embracing Myanmar's promise cautiously

By Senior State Department Producer Elise Labott

Much has happened in the year since Aung San Suu Kyi, or "The Lady," as she is referred to in Myanmar, was released after two decades in house arrest.

Once unable to communicate with the people of Myanmar, let alone the outside world, now the Nobel laureate intends to run for parliament.

It's a sign of her resilience but also emblematic of the hope that Myanmar's government is serious about making democratic reforms and moving from five decades of direct military rule.

These openings have prompted increased engagement by the United States and a coveted visit this week by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, the first by a U.S. secretary of state in more than 50 years.

Suu Kyi is a bit of an enigma. She is known worldwide for her efforts to bring democracy to Myanmar, also known as Burma, but few people have had the opportunity to hear her speak at any great length over year years.

Since her release last November, her public comments have illustrated the tightrope she is walking - balancing between encouraging the government's efforts to open up the political space in the country and speaking out about the about the need for further reform.  Amid this, she also has begun a remarkably robust dialogue with the government.

For more than an hour Wednesday, Suu Kyi held forth on a webcast with members of the Council on Foreign Relations, discussing a broad array of issues related to Myanmar, from engagement with the United States to her own political future in the country.

Suu Kyi said she genuinely believes there are people in the government and military "who want what is best for the country," and said it is important to take note of the reforms the government has made.   She spoke at length about how the media in Myanmar have more room to operate than they have in the past two decades and have increased in numbers ,as has access to the Internet .  The government has also, she said, been more liberal about political participation and allowing the use of political terms, once considered unthinkable.

Suu Kyi said she supports increased American engagement with Myanmar's government in the hope this will encourage greater reform. She hopes Clinton's visit will open the way to a better relationship between the United States and Myanmar.

But neither Suu Kyi nor Clinton are naive about the challenges ahead.

While the government of the new president, Thein Sein, has allowed more reform than any Burmese government in at least two decades, Myanmar is far from a democracy.

Journalists in country do enjoy some new freedoms, but the press is still heavily regulated and foreign journalists still face difficulties getting a visa to travel there, although in recent months more have been allowed in.

Ethnic violence still exists against Myanmar's minorities and human rights groups estimate that more than 1,500 political prisoners are still in jail.

Suspected cooperation between the government and North Korea on ballistic missiles and nuclear activity is also troubling to the United States.

One of the things Suu Kyi said is most pressing is establishing rule of law, including an independent judiciary.  That's even more important than releasing the country's political prisoners, she pointed out, because even if the prisoners were released tomorrow they could still be rearrested if there is no rule of law in the country.

She also emphasized the need for the government to do more for Myanmar's ethnic nationalities.

Right now she is focused on using the opportunities that have arisen over the past few months to engage more with the people of her country.

No date has been set for the promised parliamentary elections, but she said she will "run for the elections when they take place."

Her NLD party was planning to boycott the vote, but is reregistering after some regulations that would have prevented Suu Kyi from running were changed. Her platform, she said, will focus on rule of law, ethnic harmony and amendments to the constitution.

While she said there are no guarantees in politics, this politician said she is cautiously optimistic that democracy will come to Myanmar.

One thing that she said is encouraging is that more young people are engaged in politics. In 2002, she said, people felt it was a "dangerous game," and did not want to be involved. But it is different now.

She credited social media in part, saying young people in the nation can use the Internet to link up with others around the world and inside Myanmar, and they are better informed than before.

She said she'd love to be on Facebook and be "tweeting away," but she hasn't had the time.

soundoff (4 Responses)
  1. Sandi

    one from today,Suu Kyi sees military role in deimtracoc Myanmar(Reuters) Pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi said on Friday she was willing to work with Myanmar's military junta who locked her up for 15 years and said she would support its new political system if it helped the people.The comments by the 65-year-old Nobel peace laureate, in an interview with Reuters six days after her release from house arrest, were the strongest yet illustrating her intention and desire to engage the junta to bring about deimtracoc reforms. We have not ruled out cooperation with military, she said in a telephone interview from her home in Myanmar's former capital, Yangon. Asked to elaborate on her wish for a non-violent, peaceful revolution in the former British colony also known as Burma, she said: let's put it as significant change rather than dramatic change. Drama isn't always for the best. Although she said she would review her earlier support of Western sanctions, she doubted multinational companies could nudge the country towards economic and political reforms. We are going to re-assess the situation because we want to find out if it really is, as it has been put, that sanctions have failed at the expense of the people, she said.a9 Copyright 2010 Thomson Reuters

    June 28, 2012 at 8:15 pm | Reply

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