AUNG SAN SUU KYI ENTERS THE MYANMAR GOVERNMENT

AUNG SAN SUU KYI WINS A SEAT IN THE 2012 ELECTIONS

In April 2012, Aung San Suu Kyi won a seat in Myanmar’s parliament in by-elections and officially entered the lower house of the Burmese parliament as an MP in May. Representing her party, the National League for Democracy (NLD), she was elected to the Pyithu Hluttaw, the lower house of the Burmese parliament, representing the constituency of Kawhmu. The NLD won in a landslide, taking 43 of the 45 vacant seats in the lower house.

AP reported: “Aung San Suu Kyi's party says she has won a seat in Burma's parliament in today's landmark byelections, setting the stage for the pro-democracy icon to hold public office for the first time. The 66-year-old Nobel Peace Prize laureate was vying to represent the constituency of Wah Thin Kha, one of dozens of dirt-poor villages south of Rangoon. She is running against the ruling party's Soe Win, a former army doctor. Her decision to endorse Thein Sein's reforms so far and run in the election was a great gamble. Once in parliament, she can seek to influence policy and challenge the government from within. But she also risks legitimizing a regime she has fought against for decades while gaining little true legislative power. [Source: AP, April 1, 2012]

Reuters reported: “Thirty minutes from the scheduled end of balloting at 4.p.m. (0930 GMT), an official from Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy (NLD) said votes had been counted in 82 or the 129 polling stations in her Kawhmu constituency and claimed Suu Kyi was the clear frontrunner. "Daw Aung San Suu Kyi has won 65 percent of the vote so far," the official told Reuters, referring to Suu Kyi by her honorific title. "My whole family voted for her and I am sure all relatives and friends of us will vote for her too," said Naw Ohn Kyi, 59, a farmer from Warthinkha. [Source: Reuters , April 1, 2012 <>]

In Suu Kyi's rustic constituency of bamboo-thatched homes in Kawhmu, south of the biggest city Yangon, she looked poised for a landslide win. "So far as my friends and I have checked, almost everyone we asked voted for Aunty Suu," said Ko Myint Aung, 27-year shop owner from Kawhmu. Ko Myint Aung was one of 15 constituents contacted by Reuters, who all said they had voted for Suu Kyi. <>

In the span of a year, the government has freed hundreds of political prisoners, held peace talks with ethnic rebels, relaxed strict media censorship, allowed trade unions, and showed signs of pulling back from the powerful economic and political orbit of its giant neighbor China. But as Myanmar changes, so too, is Suu Kyi. At 66, many see her now as more politically astute, more realistic and compromising. She has described President Thein Sein as "honest" and "sincere" and accepted his appeal for the NLD to take part. Her top priorities, she says, are introducing the rule of law, ending long-simmering ethnic insurgencies and amending the 2008 constitution that ensures that the military retains a political stake and its strong influence over the country. <>

See Separate Article on the By-Elections

Significance of Aung San Suu Kyi’s Victory in the 2012 By-Elections

Aung San Suu Kyi hailed her victory as a "triumph of the people" after decades of military dictatorship. AP reported: Aung San Suu Kyi claimed victory in Myanmar's historic by-election, saying she hoped it will mark the beginning of a new era for the long-repressed country. Suu Kyi spoke to thousands of cheering supporters who gathered outside her opposition party headquarters a day after her party claimed she had won a parliamentary seat in the closely watched vote. "The success we are having is the success of the people," Suu Kyi said. "It is not so much our triumph as a triumph of the people who have decided that they have to be involved in the political process in this country." "We hope this will be the beginning of a new era," she said, as supporters chanted her name and thrust their hands into the air to flash "V'' for victory signs. [Source: AP, April 2, 2012]

Thomas Fuller wrote in the New York Times: “Aung San Suu Kyi, the democracy advocate silenced for two decades by Myanmar’s generals with house arrests and overturned elections, assumed a new role in her country’s political transition, winning a seat in Parliament to make the remarkable shift from dissident to lawmaker....Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi, a 1991 Nobel Peace laureate and the face of Myanmar’s democracy movement, will hold a public office for the first time. But despite her global prominence, she will be joining a Parliament that is still overwhelmingly controlled by the military-backed ruling party. [Source: Thomas Fuller, New York Times, April 1, 2012 }{]

“A nominally civilian government took power one year ago after years of oppressive military rule and introduced political changes it hoped would persuade Western nations to end economic sanctions. Sunday’s elections were seen as a barometer for the government’s commitment to change. To many here they represented a sea change; for the first time in two decades people in 44 districts across Myanmar had the chance to vote for Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi’s party, the National League for Democracy. With her entry into electoral politics, that role may change. Her party, which has been vague in its prescriptions for the country, will be forced to take specific stands in the country’s two houses of Parliament, where the debates have been increasingly lively in recent months. }{

“Hundreds of frenzied supporters reveled in Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi’s victory as tallies from polling places, displayed on a large screen outside her party’s headquarters in Yangon, showed her with an overwhelming lead in her race. “I feel like I want to dance,” said Khin Maung Myint, a 65-year-old painter in the crowd. “I’m so happy that they beat the military. We need a party that stands for the people.” U Min Zaw, a goldsmith who also supports Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi’s party, was more reserved, saying that he realized his vote on Sunday would go only so far — the dominance of the ruling party, the Union Solidarity and Development Party, would remain intact. “This is just a little step, just a little democracy,” Mr. Min Zaw said. The National League for Democracy will have at best a small minority in Parliament, he said. But “the future is brighter than ever.” }{

“For many supporters of Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi’s party, it was the first time they had voted in 22 years. The party boycotted the general election in 2010, which was called by a military junta, the predecessor to the current government. (Aung San Suu Kyi did not vote on Sunday; her party decided not to transfer her official residency to her constituency.) }{

Events Before Aung San Suu Kyi Won Her Parliament Seat

In November 2011, Aung San Suu Kyi announced her plans to run in the April 2012 by-elections. AFP reported: “Aung San Suu Kyi plans to run in upcoming by-elections, her spokesman said, days after her party decided to rejoin the official political arena. The National League for Democracy (NLD) move Friday to end its boycott of the political process came on the same day the military-dominated government received a seal of approval from Washington for a string of nascent reforms. “Daw Suu said she intends to take part in the election,” Nyan Win, spokesman for the NLD, told AFP. [Source: Agence France-Presse, November 21st, 2011]

The Asahi Shimbun reported: “The president of Myanmar (Burma) has expressed expectations that pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi will be elected to parliament, suggesting that he won't stand in her way if she wins. "She must be elected by the people. And if parliament elects her, then she becomes something. And that is according to the wishes of the people," President Thein Sein said. [Source: Takeshi Fujitani, Asahi Shimbun, November 20, 2011]

In January 2012, Suu Kyi registered to run for a seat in Myanmar's parliament. Associated Press reported: “Ecstatic cheers of "Long Live Aung San Suu Kyi!" echoed through the streets of this impoverished Yangon suburb as she registered for elections, a sign of how vastly Myanmar has changed since the junta gave up power. Throngs of flag-waving supporters crowded the local election office to shout support and glimpse the 66-year-old Nobel Peace laureate. The scene would have been unthinkable while the junta still ruled. Suu Kyi registered to run for a seat representing Kawhmu, a poor district south of Yangon where villagers' livelihoods were devastated by Cyclone Nargis in 2008. Many in the crowds that greeted her at the Election Commission office in Thanlyin wore Suu Kyi T-shirts.[Source: Associated Press, January 18, 2012]

In February 2012, Myanmar’s Election Commission must accepted Suu Kyi's candidacy. Associated Press reported: “Myanmar's Election Commission has given Aung San Suu Kyi the green light to run for parliamentary by-elections, which are seen as a key test of the long-repressed country's commitment to democratic reforms. Suu Kyi previously announced her intention to run in the April elections but was waiting for official approval from the commission, which said it had to scrutinize her eligibility. The commission said it had no objection to Suu Kyi's bid and officially accepted her candidacy. [Source: AP, February 5, 2012]

Aung San Suu Kyi on the Campaign Trail Before the 2012 Elections

In early 2012, Aung San Suu Kyi traveled thousands of kilometers by plane, car and boat while campaigning for herself and her party. She often drew large crowds. She first hit the campaign trail near Yangon in her constituency in Kawhmu The Telegraph reported: “Riding in a convoy of three dozen cars and flanked by hundreds of motorcycles, Aung San Suu Kyi waved and smiled as crowds chanted "long live mother Suu" en-route to the constituency where she will contest April by-elections. "There are so many struggles ahead, I recognise this not because I'm disappointed but just to say we need strength and reinforcement to overcome them," Suu Kyi said to the crowd, much of which held aloft her pictures alongside that of her late father and independence hero, Aung San. [Source: The Telegraph, February 11, 2012]

Associated Press reported: “Crowds of supporters greeted Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi with thunderous applause as she embarked on her first campaign trip since becoming an official candidate for April elections. The Nobel Peace laureate traveled for the first time in two decades to the Irrawaddy delta, Myanmar's rice bowl and the region most devastated by Cyclone Nargis in 2008. Crowds lined the roads to shout support to Suu Kyi at every major town along her four-hour drive south from Yangon to Pathein, the Irrawaddy's regional capital. More than 10,000 people packed into a sports stadium under a sweltering sun to hear her speak. One giant banner strung through the stands hailed Suu Kyi, the longtime political prisoner, as "Mother Democracy." [Source: Associated Press , February 7, 2012 ^^]

“Suu Kyi last visited the Irrawaddy region during a campaign tour in 1989, when soldiers in the town of Danuphyu briefly pointed their rifles at her. It was one of several dramatic confrontations with the ruling military junta ahead of 1990 elections, which Suu Kyi's party won but the junta refused to recognize. "I remember the last time I was here 20 years ago," Suu Kyi told the ecstatic crowd, where some fainted under the hot sun. "I see the same kind of support." ^^

“Outlining her party's objectives for entering Parliament, Suu Kyi said the National League for Democracy would seek to end ethnic conflicts and "try to achieve internal peace" and the rule of law. She called on supporters to ensure that April elections are free and fair. "Please don't forget to vote for the NLD!" Suu Kyi told the crowd, which listened raptly as she spoke. "Those who are standing in the front rows please sit down so other people can see," Suu Kyi said at one point and suddenly thousands of people sat down in unison.” ^^

Optimism asAung San Suu Kyi Runs for Office in March 2012

On the elections in March 2012, Evan Osnos wrote in The New Yorker, “Although less than seven per cent of the parliamentary seats were being contested, it was the first time that the dissident Aung San Suu Kyi had endorsed the legitimacy of an election since 1990, when her party’s victory was ignored by the government. Suu Kyi was running for the seat in Parliament representing Kawhmu, a township with vast stretches of land that had no electricity or running water. She campaigned for weeks, waving from the open sunroof of an S.U.V., shaded from the tropical sun by a parasol, as guards kept at bay tens of thousands of her supporters who lined the roads, desperate and reaching, and shouting, “A’mae Suu”—Mother Suu. She talked of starting public libraries in Burma, and of helping students to go abroad. [Source: Evan Osnos, The New Yorker, August 6, 2012 *-*]

“A couple of days before the election, Suu Kyi invited reporters over to the back yard of her house. In the garden, she looked pale. “I’m feeling a little delicate,” she said. The campaign had been gruelling, and her doctor had urged her to rest during the final days. “Any tough questions, I shall faint straight away,” she said, and smiled. For years, Suu Kyi had called for a “revolution of the spirit,” but, over the years, the poetry had been leeched from the phrase and, as one writer put it despairingly, it began to smack of “obscurantism and sheer metaphysics.” In the garden that day, she reclaimed the idea. It must be “a revolution that will help our people to overcome fear, to overcome poverty, to overcome indifference, and to take the fate of their country into their own hands,” she said. “An election alone is not going to change our country. It’s the people, the change in the spirit of the people, which will change our nation.” *-*

“To foreign reporters even a simple open-air meeting with Suu Kyi was bewildering. Suddenly, the narrative seemed to have eclipsed the fable and spilled out into a raucous ensemble. At least thirty other former prisoners were running for office as well, giving themselves a crash course in politics. The Burmese people have been subjected to the whims of despotic leaders for so long that “government” has been included in a traditional lament about the “five evils” in life, along with fire, water, thieves, and enemies. *-*

Aung San Suu Kyi Votes in Election in April 2012

Evan Osnos wrote in The New Yorker, “As the parliamentary election approached, it was unclear whether the old generals could stomach an honestto- goodness vote, and whether ordinary Burmese trusted them enough to show up at the polls. “On Election Day, I rode the ferry across the brown waters of the Irrawaddy and then took a rattletrap taxi to the river-delta township of Kawhmu, to watch Suu Kyi visit polling booths in her district. The heat shimmered above a pan-flat landscape of meandering rivers and thatch-roofed homes. Farmers drove ox-drawn plows through rice paddies. A few minutes after nine, Suu Kyi arrived at a high school in the village of Nat Sin Kong, striding gingerly across the yard, “arms swinging like a soldier,” as her biographer, Peter Popham, had put it in his recently published book “The Lady and the Peacock.” [Source: Evan Osnos, The New Yorker, August 6, 2012 *-*]

“In a tenth-grade classroom, with “Discipline, Education, Attitude” stencilled on the wall, she surveyed a lineup of plastic boxes, waved to the crowd, and was on to the next stop, trailed by a swarm of students and reporters. I stayed behind to have tea with some of the voters, and met Khin Ma Ma Chit, a farmer and a mother of two, who was still giddy with the experience of voting for the opposition. “Our parents and grandparents waited for this, but never saw it,” she said.” *-*

Reaction to Election in April 2012

Evan Osnos wrote in The New Yorker, “A former diplomat told me that, if the opposition could win half the votes, it would be “a howling success.” But it swiftly became clear that something far more decisive was under way. “We had so many feelings, so much hatred, but we kept it all inside,” another mother whom I spoke with said. “The government always oppressed us. Every rainy season, when we finally had a crop, they would take it for half the price on the market, and say, ‘It’s for the government.’ ” [Source: Evan Osnos, The New Yorker, August 6, 2012 *-*]

“The ruling party had held out the promise of new schools and roads to those who fell in line, and the people had smiled and handed them a humiliation. The opposition took forty-three of the forty-five contested seats, even winning neighborhoods in the capital that are home to civil servants. In Rangoon that night, thousands of supporters swarmed the ramshackle headquarters of Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy, a building that is a cross between a storefront and a garage, wallpapered in yellowed news clippings and littered with the megaphones, speakers, and other flotsam of perpetual opposition. They danced and sang and mocked the generals. For years, the dilapidated office had symbolized how long Burma’s democrats toiled in vain; that night, it struck me as a symbol, as well, of how unprepared they were for the sudden arrival of success. *-*

“When I stopped by the local headquarters the next morning, Aung Thein Linn, a military man and former mayor of Rangoon with a thick black comb-over, veered between indignation and victimhood as he hailed the process that his party vowed would be fair while fulminating over the outcome. He accused his opponents of “intimidation” for sending many people to watch the counting of ballots. “There may be some kind of psychological pressure,” he said, “some mistakes as a result.” Despite the vitriol, Aung Thein Linn knew that he had lost. He gestured toward his torso and declared, “I have so many scars on my body from fighting for the good of my country.” *-*

“Three days after the election, Secretary of State Clinton announced that the United States was suspending sanctions against Burma and would be appointing an ambassador to the country for the first time in twenty-two years. Human-rights groups urged the State Department to relax restrictions sector by sector, to prevent the military from exploiting a rush into the energy business. Suu Kyi warned against the “reckless optimism” of allowing firms to deal with a state-owned energy company that lacks “transparency and accountability.” But American oil companies, among others, said that they were losing business to international competitors, and in July the Obama Administration suspended sanctions across all sectors. *-*

Aung San Suu Kyi Initially Refuses to Take Parliament Seat Over Oath Row

In late April 2012 after the by-elections, Aung San Suu Kyi and her party refused to take its new seats in parliament because of a dispute over one word in the lawmakers' oath. Todd Pitman of Associated Press wrote, “The National League for Democracy party objects to phrasing in the oath that says they must "safeguard the constitution," a document they have vowed to amend because it gives inordinate power to the military and was drafted during an era of army rule. The lawmakers want the word "safeguard" replaced with "respect." [Source: Todd Pitman, Associated Press, April 23, 2012 ><]

“Suu Kyi and 42 other elected lawmakers from her party were absent as the latest assembly session got under way in the capital, Naypyitaw. The party had said it would not join until the oath issue was resolved. The oath is in an appendix to the military-backed constitution, and it is unclear whether it can be changed without the approval of 75 percent of parliament.Phyo Min Thein, one of the opposition's newly elected lawmakers, said the party is pressing the issue because changing even an appendix to the constitution would be significant and highly symbolic. "We want them to change the wording because it will show people that the 2008 constitution can be changed," he said. "That's the point." Similar phrasing was changed in the party registration law in 2011, a move that opened the way for Suu Kyi's party to rejoin politics. ><

Reuters reported: Suu Kyi carries immense political clout and her house debut was due to take place on the same day the European Union was expected to announce the suspension of some sanctions. The United States and Australia are expected to follow suit in the coming months. At the heart of the issue is Suu Kyi's plans to push to amend the constitution to eventually cut the military out of politics. The constitution grants the armed forces a quota of ministerial portfolios and 25 percent of seats in all legislative chambers. [Source: Aung Hla Tun, Reuters, April 19, 2012]

In the end Aung San Suu Kyi and her party backed down. AFP and Reuters reported: “United Nations Secretary General Ban-Ki Moon praised Myanmar's opposition leader for defusing a political row, allowing her party to enter parliament...Suu Kyi and her National League for Democracy party backed down in a dispute over an oath of office parliamentarians are required to take. She and the 42 other NLD members who won seats in Myanmar's recent by-elections had refused to take the oath because it requires parliamentarians to "safeguard" the constitution, which was written by the country's military. "I know that it must have been a very difficult decision," Ban told reporters at a press conference following their meeting. "But a real leader demonstrates flexibility for the greater cause of the people. This is what she has done … and I really admire and respect her decision." [Source: Reuters, AFP, May 1, 2012 =]

“Standing beside Ban at the press conference in Yangon, Suu Kyi said the decision to climb down on the issue was in part a mark of respect to all who had voted for the party. "We have always believed in flexibility, in the political process ... that is the only way in which we can achieve our goal without violence," she said, adding that one of her top priorities after taking her seat in parliament would be to get the 2008 constitution amended. The two met a day after Ban had become the first foreigner to address Myanmar's parliament. He used his speech to praise the "vision, leadership and courage" of President Thein Sein, who has introduced a series of reforms since taking office just over a year ago. =

In May 2012, Aung San Suu Kyi finally took the oath to become a member of parliament. The Guardian reported: “Aung San Suu Kyi has entered the Burmese parliament to take the oath of office and her seat as an elected member, ushering in a historic new political era after years of oppressive military rule. With white roses in her hair, Suu Kyi stood along with several dozen of her party's lawmakers as the speaker of the lower house asked them to read the oath.” [Source: The Guardian, Agencies, May 2012]

Aung San Suu Kyi After the Elections in 2012 and Her Ideas About Governing Myanmar

Aung San Suu Kyi’s party had little power in the military- and ruling-party dominated legislature even though it won in a landslide in the 2012 by-election. The NLD had too few seats in the military-ruling-party-dominated assembly. There were fears the presence of an opposition would legitimise the current regime but there was also optimism that new MPs would bring a level of public debate to the legislative body. There was also hope that the 2012 that the overwhelming poll victory by the NLD in 2012 would set the stage for a major sweep during the next general vote in 2015.

The by-election's outcome, in which the opposition won almost all of the 45 seats up for grabs, was considered a major step toward reconciliation after decades of military rule in Myanmar. April 2012, Aung San Suu Kyi met President Thein Sein for the second time. She didn’t reveal any details from the meeting but said she was satisfied with its outcome. In July she was shown on state television placing a wreath on here father’s tomb during the ceremony for Martyr’s Day. In the past she hadn’t even been allowed to attend the event.

Issues that Aung San Suu Kyi seems most concerned about after taking office were constitutional reform, corruption and creating jobs. In the Myanmar parliament, Aung San Suu Kyi became the chairperson of the Rule of Law and Liability Committee. At the World Economic Forum meeting in Bangkok she listed the country's most essential needs as basic education and vocational training to foster political reforms and jobs to end high unemployment among the young, who have little to do in life and not much hope. "I'm extremely worried about youth unemployment," which she called "a time bomb." Anticipating huge aid and investment to develop Myanmar's stunted infrastructure, Suu Kyi said she hoped foreign firms would invest cautiously and transparently, so the influx of money can benefit the impoverished masses. "We do not want more investment to mean more possibilities for corruption," she said. "Our country must benefit."

When asked if she had any ideas as to how to improve the living standards of the people in Myanmar, she told the Washington Post, “We need to empower the people. One way to empower them is to make them stronger economically. That’s where we would like our friends to help: foreign aid in the right way; development aid that is not frittered away to those who are administering the funds.” Do you favor privatizing the economy? “Yes, but we need sound laws with regard to the economy. We need sound banking and sound investment laws. Only a small minority of our people have anything to do with banks.”

Aung San Suu Kyi’s First Foreign Trip in 25 Years—to Thailand

After taking her seat in parliament her activities that got the most attention were her trips abroad. In May 2012 Aung San Suu Kyi left Myanmar for the first time in 24 years to attend the World Economic Forum on East Asia in Thailand. Before she left she obtained her first passport in 24 years. The passport she had when she returned to Myanmar in 1988 was taken by the government after she was required by law to turn it in. Before the trip, AP reported: “Suu Kyi's aides have offered few details about her trip aside from the destinations, saying only that she will pack medicine for motion sickness. "She gets airsick and seasick very easily. She will have to take her pills to prevent airsickness," said Win Htein, a senior official from her National League for Democracy party. He said she was typically stoic ahead of her travels: "She doesn't look too excited about it." [Source: AP, May 29, 2012]

On a stop in Mahachai, home to Thailand's largest population of Burmese migrants, AP reported: “Aung San Suu Kyi, on her first foreign trip in nearly a quarter-century, offered encouragement to impoverished migrants whose flight from their homeland is emblematic of the devastation wrought there by decades of misrule. "Don't feel down, or weak. History is always changing," she told an exuberant crowd of thousands southwest of Bangkok. Many held signs saying, "We want to go home," and Suu Kyi said her visit was aimed at learning how she could help them. "Today, I will make you one promise: I will try my best for you," she said. [Source: AP, May 31, 2012 +]

“In the town of Mahachai,, thousands of Myanmar's downtrodden crowded around her and chanted: "Long Live Mother Suu!" "I had only seen her on TV and in newspapers," said Saw Hla Tun, who left Myanmar's Karen state seven years ago and earns a meager wage carrying heavy salt sacks on his back. "I couldn't hold back my tears when I saw her." After speaking to the crowd, Suu Kyi met with migrant workers who told her they are mistreated by employers but don't know their rights and have no legal means to settle disputes. +

On her appearance at the World Economic Forum in Bangkok, AP reported: “Aung San Suu Kyi basked in a long-overdue standing ovation at her first speech before an international audience but quickly shifted the focus from herself to Myanmar's many needs — and how the world can help. Despite recently emerging from 24 years of isolation, the former political prisoner appeared completely at ease speaking to the World Economic Forum in Bangkok where she urged the international community to exercise "healthy skepticism" toward Myanmar's much-touted reform process.

“Klaus Schwab, the forum's founder, introduced her as "one of the most extraordinary personalities of this century." The mission of her travels is to discuss how the world can help "that little piece of the world that some of us call Burma and some of us call Myanmar," she said. Dressed in pale blue silk with a strand of white flowers in her hair, Suu Kyi listed the country's most essential needs as basic education and vocational training to foster political reforms and jobs. "These days I am coming across what I call reckless optimism," she told the room packed with several hundred people and a wall of TV cameras. She drew applause, saying, "A little bit of healthy skepticism I think is in order."

Aung San Suu Kyi’s European Tour in 2012

In June 2012, Aung San Suu Kyi made a three-week tour of Europe, visiting Switzerland, Norway, Ireland, UK and France. It was the first time she is able to travel to Europe in 24 years. She visited her former hometown of Oxford for a reunion with family and friends and was given an honorary doctorate at Oxford University. In Paris, French President Rancois Hollande welcomed her to the Elysee Palace. In Ireland, she received an Amnesty International award from U2's Bono.

On her visit to London, The Times reported: “Aung San Suu Kyi has become the first foreign woman to address both houses of the British parliament. In a landmark speech, Ms Suu Kyi called on Britain's help for Burma, and said her country needed to learn from parliamentary democracies. "For us in Burma, what you take for granted, we have had to struggle for long and hard," she said. "So many people in Burma gave up so much in Burma's ongoing struggle for democracy and we are only now just beginning to see the fruits of our struggle." Since World War II, United States president Barack Obama, Pope Benedict XVI, South African president Nelson Mandela and French president Charles de Gaulle are the only other foreigners to have addressed both houses in Westminster Hall. [Source: The Times, June 12, 2012]

In Switzerland, Suu Ki became during a press conference. Catherine Gaschka and Frank Jordans of AP wrote: “A rock star welcome greeted Aung San Suu Kyi as she embarked on her first trip to Europe in 24 years. But after a whirlwind of standing ovations, speeches and receptions, it all became too much, and she fell ill during a news conference in Switzerland. The 66-year-old Nobel Peace Prize laureate became sick shortly after saying how exhausted she was after her long trip from Asia to Europe. Suu Kyi looked pale as she took questions Thursday evening alongside Foreign Minister Didier Burkhalter in the Swiss capital of Bern. After a few minutes, she pressed a finger to her lips and motioned to an aide who rushed to her side with a bag. She then bent over and threw up before being escorted out of the room by officials. [Source: Catherine Gaschka and Frank Jordans, AP, June 14, 2012 *]

“A spokesman for the Swiss Foreign Ministry said Suu Kyi recovered enough to briefly attend a reception with government officials later but then retired to her room. "She's just a bit tired," spokesman Jean-Marc Crevoisier told The Associated Press. "I would be, too, after the long day she's had." Earlier, Suu Kyi blamed age and lack of travel for her tiredness. "Having stayed in one place for so long, I found the plane journey out to the West extremely exhausting and a little bit disorienting because I couldn't adjust to the new time as quickly as I might have 24 years ago," Suu Kyi told reporters. "It may, of course, have something to do with age. It may have to do with lack of practice." *

Aung San Suu Kyi Accepts Nobel Peace Prize 20 Years After Being Awarded It

On her visit to Oslo, Peter Beaumont wrote in The Observer, “In an event hailed as the "most remarkable in the entire history of the Nobel prizes", Aung San Suu Kyi, the Burmese democracy campaigner, delivered her acceptance speech for her peace prize in Oslo's vast City Hall more than two decades after it was awarded. Given the prize in 1991 – but by then under house arrest by Burma's military junta – it was left to her two sons, Alexander and Kim, to travel to Norway to receive the peace prize that year. Able to travel freely after 21 years, Aung San Suu Kyi stood in front of a packed hall, in which Norwegian dignitaries rubbed shoulders with Buddhist monks in saffron robes and Burmese guests in traditional costumes, to deliver her long-delayed acceptance speech in a moment of high emotion. [Source: Peter Beaumont, The Observer, June 16, 2012 ~]

“Commended in the original citation for her "non-violent struggle" as "one of the most extraordinary examples of civil courage in Asia in recent decades", the 66-year-old activist, elected to the country's national assembly during its fragile political transition, recalled with typical self-effacement the moment at which she heard she had been awarded the peace prize. "I heard the news on the radio one evening. I've tried very hard to remember what my immediate reaction to the announcement of the award had been. I think it was something like: 'Oh … so they've decided to give it to me'." ~

“She made a wide-ranging, deeply personal lecture, which touched on her feelings of isolation under house arrest, the Buddhist concept of suffering, human rights and her hopes and fears for her country's future, and the importance of the peace prize itself. "It did not seem quite real because in a sense I did not feel myself to be quite real at that time," she said. "Often during my days of house arrest it felt as though I were no longer a part of the real world. There was the house which was my world, there was the world of others who also were not free but were together in prison as a community, and there was the world of the free; each was a different planet pursuing its own separate course in an indifferent universe. ~

"What the Nobel peace prize did was to draw me once again into the world of other human beings outside the isolated area in which I lived, to restore a sense of reality to me. This did not happen instantly, of course, but as the days and months went by, and news of reactions to the award came over the airwaves, I began to understand the significance of the Nobel prize. It had made me real once again. What was more important, the prize had drawn the attention of the world to the struggle for democracy and human rights in Burma. We were not going to be forgotten. When the Nobel committee awarded the peace prize to me, they were recognising that the oppressed and the isolated in Burma were also a part of the world, they were recognising the oneness of humanity … The Nobel peace prize opened up a door in my heart." ~

Aung San Suu Kyi in the United States

In September 2012, Aung San Suu Kyi visited the United States and met with Prime Minister Barack Obama. As part of her 17-day tour she was presented with the U.S. Congress’s highest award and traveled to New York, the American Midwest and California. After meetings in Washington and New York, Suu Kyi traveled to Kentucky and Indiana and visited Yale and Harvard universities, before a public event in San Francisco. Her schedule was carefully arranged so it didn’t upstage a visit by Myanmar President Thein Sein who arrived a week after Suu Kyi. Suu Kyi and Thein Sein met briefly in New York.

On her stop in Washington, Associated Press reported: “Aung San Suu Kyi has been presented with the US Congress' highest civilian honour at a ceremony in Washington, describing it as "one of the most moving days of my life." The Burmese democracy campaigner was awarded the Congressional Gold Medal in 2008 while under a 15-year house arrest for her peaceful struggle against military rule. Her long-awaited visit to America finally provided an opportunity for her to receive the honour in person in Congress' most majestic setting, beneath the dome of the Capitol and ringed by marble statues of former presidents. Previous recipients of the medal include George Washington, Tibetan Buddhist leader the Dalai Lama and Pope John Paul II. [Source: Associated Press, September 20, 2012]

She then met privately at the White House with president Obama, another winner of the Nobel Peace Prize. They appeared relaxed and were smiling as they talked in the Oval Office. Obama "expressed his admiration for her courage, determination and personal sacrifice in championing democracy and human rights over the years," according to a statement from the White House. The White House said the president "reaffirmed the determination of the United States to support their sustained efforts to promote political and economic reforms and to ensure full protection of the fundamental rights of the Burmese people." The low-key nature of the meeting appeared to reflect concerns that Suu Kyi's Washington visit could overshadow Burma's reformist president Thein Sein, who attends the U.N. General Assembly in New York.

At the medal ceremony, House and Senate leaders joined Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in paying tribute to Suu Kyi. Speaker after speaker at the medal ceremony marvelled that this was moment they thought they would never see: Suu Kyi before them, not only free but herself now a lawmaker. "It's almost too delicious to believe, my friend," said Clinton, "that you are in the Rotunda of our Capitol, the centerpiece of our democracy as an elected member of parliament."

Buddhist monks in saffron robes and women in traditional Burmese dresses crammed into the venue alongside members of Congress, who set aside the intense rivalries ahead of the 6 November election.

Republican Senator John McCain, often called a hero for the years he endured as a prisoner of war in Vietnam, said Suu Kyi was his hero. Former first lady Laura Bush said the hope that now grows in Burma was a tribute to Suu Kyi. She said the former military regime had encountered an "immoveable object" in the opposition leader and its legitimacy broke against her character. While speakers paid tribute to Suu Kyi's resolve in the face of oppression, a spirit of reconciliation in Burma also pervaded the ceremony recognition of its recent dramatic political changes after five decades of authoritarian rule. A key aide to Thein Sein attended the ceremony, which Suu Kyi welcomed. The Treasury also announced it was taking Thein Sein off its list of individuals sanctioned from doing business or owning property in America.

She has spoke at several college campuses, where she drew excited crowds. On her speech at Harvard, Ros Krasny wrote in Reuters, “Myanmar pro-democracy leader and Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi got celebrity treatment from students at Harvard University, but insisted she was not an "icon." "I don't like to be referred to as an icon, because from my point of view, icons just sit there," Suu Kyi said during a lecture before an enthusiastic, overflow crowd at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government in Cambridge, Massachusetts. "I would like you to think of me as a worker. I put a lot of faith in hard work. Even under house arrest, I had to work very hard to live a disciplined life. It was hard work. ... Please look upon me as a hard worker." A few years earlier she told the Los Angeles Times: "I look upon myself as a politician. That's not a dirty word, you know. Some people think that there is something wrong with politicians. Of course, there is something wrong with some politicians." [Source: Ros Krasny, Reuters, September 27, 2012]

Suu Kyi Ready to Lead Myanmar to Democracy?

In June 2012, Guy Faulconbridge and Maria Golovnina of Reuters wrote: “Aung San Suu Kyi announced in Britain that she was prepared to take the helm as the leader of her people, the strongest signal yet she saw herself as someone who could lead her country to democracy one day. Asked by the BBC if she was prepared to lead her people, given the prospect of national elections in 2015, she replied: "If I can lead them in the right way, yes." "It's all of you and people like you that have given me the strength to continue," she said, to whoops and cheers from the audience. "And I suppose I do have a stubborn streak in me." [Source: Guy Faulconbridge and Maria Golovnina, Reuters, June 20, 2012 **]

“In London, Suu Kyi spoke about the importance of the rule of law in Myanmar."The reason why I've emphasised the rule of law so much in my political work is because this is what we all need if we are to really proceed towards democracy..,Unless people see that justice is done and seen to be done, we cannot believe in genuine reform. She said in her London speech that she was confident she could work with the military rulers to amend the constitution. "Do we think it can be amended? Yes, we think so, because we think that it's possible to work together with the military to make them understand why we think that this constitution will not move us (the country) in a positive direction," she said.” **

On democracy in Myanmar, Aung San Suu Kyi said in Los Angeles in her last public appearance on her U.S. tour: "It can't be like America's democracy because Burma is not America. "Each country develops its own type of democracy, not something that should be imposed from above. I've always been against so-called disciplined democracy, which has been advocated by the military regime." [Source: Michael Thurston, AFP, October 3, 2012 ==]

“When asked what she would do if she were Burma's presiden, she dismissed the question by saying: "You should consider how the present president of Burma is handling the situation, rather than asking me how I would handle it if I were the president of Burma.... Let's be practical." Asked what democratic models Myanmar could look to, she said: "We have many, many lessons to learn from various places, not just the Asian countries like South Korea, Taiwan, Mongolia and Indonesia." She also cited "the eastern European countries, which made the transition from communist autocracy to democracy in the 1980s and 1990s, and the Latin American countries, which made the transition from military governments...And we cannot of course forget South Africa, because although it wasn't a military regime, it was certainly an authoritarian regime." She added: "We wish to learn from everybody who has achieved a transition to democracy, and also ... our great strong point is that, because we are so far behind everybody else, we can also learn which mistakes we should avoid." ==

"She is very inspirational for us, we admire her," said Corina Yang, 36, who is half Chinese and said it was the first time she had seen Suu Kyi. Asked if she would make a good president, Yang said: "She's a very straightforward person, and I really like her personality. She is a very honest person, so I really wish her one day to become president in our country." ==

When asked by the Washington Post if she wanted to be president one day, she said, “I don’t want to be president, but I want to be free to decide whether or not I want to be president of this country.” If you win a majority of the parliamentary seats in 2015, as you did in 1990, do you think they would let you assume power? “What we want is to make sure that by 2015, this should not be a question at all. By 2015, we should be certain that whichever party wins the majority in parliament should decide how the government is going to be organized. We have said quite clearly that one of the aims of the NLD [National League for Democracy] is the necessary amendments to the constitution. [Source: Lally Weymouth, Washington Post, January 20, 2012]

Aung San Suu Kyi Reappointed as NLD Leader

In March 2013, the NLD reappointed Aung San Suu Kyi as party leader. AFP reported: Myanmar’s long-silenced opposition reappointed Aung San Suu Kyi at a landmark maiden congress, as it eyes victory in elections set for 2015. She was unanimously selected as chairwoman by her National League for Democracy’s 120-member Central Committee, a party source told news agency AFP. Hundreds of NLD members have gathered in Yangon for the conference in a display of political strength that would have been unthinkable under the junta. For the benefit of the country we should unite and get along. [Source: AFP, March 10, 2013 ////]

“But the meeting also revealed the challenges faced by the party, including a lack of experience as well as internal divisions. Four members were banned from attending the conference after being accused of trying to influence voting. Suu Kyi on Sunday urged her opposition party to “seize the opportunity” as it gears up for what is expected to be a major victory for the NLD in the 2015 polls, given that the vote is free and fair. “For the benefit of the country we should unite and get along,” she told delegates. “I would like to ask that you do not allow personal feelings to harm the future of the nation,” she added. ////

“But some observers question whether the NLD is ready to run an impoverished nation whose economy, education and health systems were left in tatters by the corrupt former junta. Fault lines have also been detected between the older top party officials – the so-called “NLD uncles” – and a younger generation eager to help steer the party as Myanmar enters a new era. ////

Pro-Military Myanmar Ruling Party: Suu Kyi Coalition Possible

In June 2013, Matthew Pennington of Associated Press wrote: “The chief of Myanmar's pro-military party said he is not ruling out a coalition government with the opposition party of Aung San Suu Kyi after crucial elections in 2015 if it's in the national interest. In the past two weeks, both lower house speaker Shwe Mann and Nobel laureate Suu Kyi have said they want to run for president. [Source: Matthew Pennington, Associated Press, June 13, 2013 >*>]

“Shwe Mann said his party is collaborating with Suu Kyi. Asked if a coalition was possible after the election, he said it was too soon to say whether or not that would happen, but indicated it was possible. "I believe time will decide on this matter. But the important thing here is to have confidence between Aung San Suu Kyi and us," he said through an interpreter. >*>

Despite his cooperative spirit toward the opposition leader, Shwe Mann would not be drawn on whether he would support changes to the army-dictated constitution that would disqualify the popular Suu Kyi from becoming president. He said a parliamentary commission is considering amendments. "I don't want to make any remarks that would influence others or hurt the interest of another person, because this matter concerns the majority of the people," Shwe Mann said.

Aung San Suu Kyi: “I Want to Run for President”

In June 2013, Aung San Suu Kyi told an open discussion at the World Economic Forum in Myanmar: "I want to run for president and I'm quite frank about it. If I pretended that I didn't want to be president, I wouldn't be honest and I would rather be honest with my people than otherwise."[Source: Hilary Whiteman, CNN, June 6, 2013]

Two years into the presidency of Thein Sein, she said that the vast majority of Myanmar's people are not seeing the benefits of reform. "If you talk to the man on the street, if you talk to people in villages, the great majority of them would say that their lives have not changed since 2010. " People "want to feel that they have been included in the process of change," Suu Kyi told the panel. "And that's nothing to do with the number of cars that you now see in Rangoon (Yangon) or the number of magazines that you can buy because the vast majority of our people have no access to those."

To clear the way for her presidency, Suu Kyi said the country's constitution had to change. As it stands, the former political prisoner is ineligible to contest the presidency because of a clause that bans anyone with a foreign spouse or child. Suu Kyi's late husband, Michael Aris, was English and her two sons have British passports. In addition to repealing that provision, her party wants to reduce the 25 percent share of parliament that the constitution guarantees to the military.” Asked whether she was reasonably optimistic that those changes would be made, Suu Kyi said, "I don't believe in indulging in optimism. Let me put it this way. I've always said hope has to be backed up by endeavor. "So, rather than being optimistic or hoping that the constitution will be amended we're going to work for the constitution to be amended."

Obstacles to Aung San Suu Kyi's Presidential Hopes

Aung San Suu Kyi will turn 70 in 205 when Myanmar holds it first free general election. 2014 Jared Ferrie of Reuters wrote: “Now her journey from political prisoner to president appears much less certain, even as her ambition is clearer than ever. But to emerge as president after a 2015 general election, she must overcome challenges that would daunt a less formidable political survivor. She must convince a military-dominated parliament to amend the constitution. Even if she can do that, and the constitution can be amended in time, she could then face a voter backlash over her position on a violent and widening rift between her nation's Buddhists and minority Muslims. [Source: Jared Ferrie, Reuters, June 19, 2013]

Her rare public expressions of support for Muslims, who have borne the brunt of waves of sectarian violence, put her in a politically fraught position in the Buddhist-majority country. Some people wonder if the violence is being exploited by conservative opponents to chip away at her support. To win power, she would also have to fend off two former generals who covet the top spot. The first is Shwe Mann, the influential speaker of Myanmar's lower house. The other is the popular incumbent Thein Sein, whose quasi-civilian government took power in March 2011 after nearly half a century of military rule and launched a series of political and economic reforms. Thein Sein might seek a second term despite health concerns.

Suu Kyi's most immediate problem is the constitution. It bars anyone married to a foreigner or who has children who are foreign citizens. Suu Kyi and her husband, the late British academic Michael Aris, had two children who are British. "By all accounts it was drawn up with her in mind," Andrew McLeod, a professor at Sydney Law School and deputy director of the Myanmar Constitutional Reform Project, said of the constitution, drawn up under the former military junta. Any constitutional amendment would require 75 percent support in parliament - no easy task when the constitution also reserves a quarter of seats for the military. Most of the rest of the members of parliament are members of the Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), created by the old junta and largely made up of retired military officers. If passed by parliament, an amendment must win more than half the vote in a referendum. Some analysts say there just isn't enough time to do all that before the 2015 election.

But even if she can pull off the amendments, the reality of partisan politics could threaten Suu Kyi's presidential hopes. Suu Kyi, the daughter of the hero of the campaign for independence from Britain, faces pressure internationally to defend the persecuted, including Muslims. But when she does, her once-unassailable popularity is threatened. Groups such as the New York-based Human Rights Watch have condemned Suu Kyi for not using her moral authority to speak in defense of the Rohingya for fear of upsetting the Buddhist majority ahead of the election.

When asked about her failure to strongly condemn violence against the Rohingya, Suu Kyi said at the World Economic Forum she didn't want to "aggravate the situation" by taking sides. But she has criticized a policy in Rakhine State limiting Rohingya women to two children. Suu Kyi has also said the government should re-examine the 1982 citizenship law. But that prompted the Daily Eleven newspaper to warn that any attempt by her to change the law would alienate voters and cost her party the next election.

Denying Suu Kyi a crack at the presidency could prompt Western companies to halt investment in one of Asia's last frontier economies. But Bertil Lintner, a veteran journalist and author of several books on Myanmar, said that was not likely. "I think the foreign business community would prefer to have the USDP and the military in power," he said. "For them, it means stability and continuity."

Aung San Suu Kyi and Myanmar’s Future

On Myanmar’s future, Aung San Suu Kyi said: “"We know that something remarkable is going on. We are all aware that this is a very unusual time for Burma. This is an extraordinary moment for our country...The most difficult time in any transition is when we think that success is in sight. We have to be very careful that we are not lured by a mirage of success.”

Image Sources:

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, The Irrawaddy, Myanmar Travel Information Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Global Viewpoint (Christian Science Monitor), Foreign Policy, burmalibrary.org, burmanet.org, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, NBC News, Fox News and various books and other publications.

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© 2008 Jeffrey Hays

Last updated May 2014

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