Mak­ing the most of a le­gacy

Mizzima Business Weekly - - EDITORIAL -

Daw Aung San Suu Kyi was given a hero­ine’s wel­come at Nat­mauk in Magwe Re­gion on Fe­bru­ary 13 for cel­e­bra­tions mark­ing the birth in the town 100 years ear­lier of her fa­ther, Gen­eral Aung San.

There are many rea­sons why the found­ing fa­ther of post-colo­nial Burma is still revered and re­mem­bered. Aung San was a young man when he founded the Burma Na­tional Army, pre­de­ces­sor of the Tat­madaw. Af­ter World War II he slowly but surely wres­tled in­de­pen­dence for his coun­try from the Bri­tish. The year be­fore in­de­pen­dence he hosted a meet­ing at Pan­g­long with Shan, Kachin and Chin lead­ers that agreed a for­mula for a fed­eral state.

Aung San never wit­nessed the un­shack­ling of his coun­try from colo­nial rule. On July 17, 1947, gun­men en­tered a room at the Sec­re­tariat Build­ing in Yan­gon and as­sas­si­nated the bright young politi­cian and six mem­bers of his cabi­net on the Ex­ec­u­tive Coun­cil, the shadow gov­ern­ment es­tab­lished by the Bri­tish to pre­pare for the trans­fer of power.

Some older Myan­mar be­lieve that Aung San was the only politi­cian who could have uni­fied the coun­try and pre­vented the civil war that erupted the year af­ter in­de­pen­dence and tore the coun­try apart, set­ting the stage for a mil­i­tary coup.

There was a time when many peo­ple thought that Daw Aung San Suu Kyi could live up to her fa­ther’s dream. But can she?

Daw Aung San Suu Kyi had re­turned to Myan­mar to care for her ter­mi­nally ill mother when she en­tered pol­i­tics dur­ing the vi­o­lent sum­mer of 1988. She had no back­ground in pol­i­tics and had lived abroad for most of her life, but the Aung San aura guar­an­teed her po­lit­i­cal star­dom be­fore she had done any­thing.

The pow­er­ful im­age of a pe­tite, pho­to­genic woman stand­ing up to the gen­er­als and her ar­tic­u­late, elo­quent use of English en­sured that she be­came a fo­cus of at­ten­tion for for­eign jour­nal­ists vis­it­ing Myan­mar. Pub­lic­ity tends lead to more pub­lic­ity; with ev­ery ar­ti­cle the stature of the Lady grew. All her party had to do in 1990 was turn up.

Since Daw Aung San Suu Kyi de­cided to play along with the tran­si­tion in 2012 and con­test by-elec­tions in which her Na­tional League for Democ­racy won 43 of 45 va­cant seats, the sit­u­a­tion has changed. Lofty speeches are not enough any­more. The NLD and its fig­ure­head have to de­liver, in­side and out­side par­lia­ment.

Dis­il­lu­sion is set­ting in. In West­ern coun­tries op­po­si­tion par­ties tend to of­fer pol­icy al­ter­na­tives. They launch pro­pos­als and form shadow gov­ern­ments. The NLD seems con­tent, though, to fo­cus on open­ing of­fices and to ne­glect po­lit­i­cal con­tent. Its only real ef­fort was to un­leash a na­tional cam­paign for con­sti­tu­tional re­form that fo­cussed partly on char­ter pro­vi­sions bar­ring its leader from con­test­ing the pres­i­dency.

Ev­ery for­eign dig­ni­tary vis­it­ing Myan­mar cher­ishes the op­por­tu­nity to meet the NLD leader and have a pic­ture taken with her. But af­ter th­ese meet­ings adu­la­tion is of­ten re­placed by dis­ap­point­ment.

It is wor­ry­ing that she lacks of cir­cle of crit­i­cal ad­vi­sors and that her party does not ap­pear to be groom­ing a younger gen­er­a­tion of tal­ented po­lit­i­cal thinkers. There’s also the fact that af­ter many years the NLD is yet to de­velop a care­fully crafted po­lit­i­cal plat­form. How would an NLD gov­ern­ment man­age the econ­omy, for­eign re­la­tions and health­care re­form? We can only guess.

We do know that the NLD is striv­ing not to alien­ate its pre­dom­i­nantly Ba­mar con­stituency on the con­tentious is­sue of Mus­lims and cit­i­zen­ship, a devel­op­ment that is mak­ing its West­ern sup­port­ers in­creas­ingly un­easy.

It was no co­ince­dence that when the Lady spoke in Nat­mauk, she was flanked by se­nior monks. Was this to demon­strate that she has the back­ing of na­tion­al­ist Ba­mar, is not a friend of Mus­lims and sup­ports the con­tro­ver­sial re­li­gious laws? An ear­lier NLD move in par­lia­ment to dis­en­fran­chise white card hold­ers in the pro­posed May ref­er­en­dum spoke vol­umes as well.

Last week the gov­ern­ment upped the ante by an­nounc­ing that all white cards will ex­pire at the end of March, a move that will leave about 1.5 mil­lion res­i­dents in legal limbo.

Granted, this is an elec­tion year. Nev­er­the­less, it is not a pretty sight when the for­mer army men of the Union Sol­i­dar­ity and Devel­op­ment Party and mem­bers of the Na­tional League for Democ­racy are try­ing to outdo each other in em­brac­ing anti-Mus­lim poli­cies. A win­ner of the No­bel Peace Prize should not want to be part of this.

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