On Nov. 8, as Myanmar approaches what analysts are calling the most important polls since the country was taken over by a military coup in 1962, speculation is rising over the future role of Aung San Suu Kyi, the leader of the opposition National League for Democracy.
Although for the international community the Nobel Peace Laureate, now 70, has raised hope for a convincing political role, the ground reality remains grim. Expectations of being an executive president are diminishing. Her position in post-poll Myanmar is more likely at most to be vice president and speaker of the lower house of parliament or possibly foreign minister.
“Whatever the speculation possessed by the Myanmar people or the international community, Suu Kyi cannot be president given the present political structure in Myanmar,” Khin Maung Win, a Yangon-based political commentator, told Asia Sentinel. “I believe both Suu Kyi and the NLD supporters have realized that until there is a miracle, there is no hope for her to replace Thein Sein immediately.”
The question is whether Suu Kyi retains the same electoral cachet that she brought to the party in 2010. She had remained by far the most popular figure in Burma during the 15 years of her house arrest, during which she refused to leave even for her husband’s death. Her stand against the military made her loved and trusted by all.
But the scenario has changed as, once elected to the parliament, she has become part of the regime at Naypyidaw, the new capital the generals built north of Rangoon. She is regarded as having hesitated to take on some of Myanmar’s most pressing issues. She has instead called for the rule of law, a law that too often is laid down by the generals. She has been reluctant to speak out about abuses by the army against rebels in Kachin state, saying both sides were responsible.
One of her most surprising and disheartening performances, as chairwoman of a panel investigating land disputes between poor farmers and the Letpadaung Copper Mine, which drew hundreds of protesters and inspired police beatings, her report ended up siding with the company.
She has remained silent as thousands of Rohingya Muslim families in Arakan province have undergone nothing less than a pogrom by the majority Buddhists. The NLD hasn’t even provided space for Muslim leaders and workers for the upcoming polls. To many, she has appeared to be too close to the ruling military-dominated government.
Suu Kyi herself, in an interview with Indian media, acknowledged that she wouldn’t be able to win the presidency although she expressed optimism about the performance of the National League for Democracy. If the party receives the kind of mandate it won in 1988, when the generals miscalculated and allowed polls that gave it an estimated 90 percent of the votes, she believes she could lead the next government whether or not she is president.
However, the formal trappings of power are something else. Kin Maung Win, who is associated with the Democratic Voice of Burma, a media organization run by Burmese expatriates, said that even with overwhelming success for NLD candidates in the general election, the constitution effectively crushes the party’s chances.