Much to be done before President Suu Kyi
The Straits Times/Asia News Network
March 21, 2013, 11:37 am TWN
There is irony in Myanmar's reform. While President Thein Sein has been remarkably bold in liberalizing political and economic structures and opening up foreign relations, the government's old nemesis, the National League for Democracy (NLD), seems at a standstill.
This is not a role reversal, but NLD founder Aung San Suu Kyi should be worried her wish for a rejuvenation is not being fulfilled. The party conference last week brought few changes in its executive and middle ranks. It was thin on policy, beyond known positions on strengthening the rule of law, internal peace and reducing the army's role in national life. Whether these deficiencies will hurt the party in the runup to the 2015 parliamentary election can only be guessed at.
It is common for a once-proscribed party to struggle to reorganize, as many of the NLD's principals had been in prison during the years of military rule. It also is no surprise a party identified closely with one charismatic personality is inherently weak. Suu Kyi is the NLD's prime asset, her aura undimmed among a majority of the 60 million population. Yet her overpowering presence could also be a liability by stunting its growth. No doubt, Suu Kyi is wise enough to recognize this, which is why she has been pushing for change within the party as well.
If popular sentiment is right that the NLD is the natural party of government, it has to develop policy nous quickly while it draws in energetic young people with ideas that accord with the mood for societal change. It should act forthwith, especially as there is no suspicion the military, which still is in de facto control, is undermining the NLD significantly.
Myanmar is gaining so much from the enthusiasm of foreign friends and investors, the incumbents would be foolish to upset their working relationship with Suu Kyi. It was their embrace of her after years of detention that gave Myanmar its entree into the international community. Having devoted her life to ending military rule, her hardest task now is to convince her supporters she has to work within the military-controlled framework to bring change.
As to whether the party or the current civilian-military arrangement better represents the interests of the people, this is what the maneuvering is about. After the NLD swept by-elections last year, it was natural for the people to assume it will go on to win a full mandate in 2015. Suu Kyi will be 70 then. The memory of the NLD's landslide win in the 1990 election and the subsequent annulment by the army undoubtedly will exert a moral pull on the people to seek restitution.
Suu Kyi has to overturn the constitution to make herself eligible to be president if her party wins. Alongside this, she must ensure her party is ready to govern.