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Can Suu Kyi Make the Shift from Icon to Politician?

by Joshua Kurlantzick
February 6, 2012

Myanmar's pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi talks during a news conference after her meeting with U.N. Special Rapporteur Tomas Ojea Quintana at her home in Yangon February 3, 2012. Myanmar's pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi talks during a news conference after her meeting with U.N. Special Rapporteur Tomas Ojea Quintana at her home in Yangon February 3, 2012. (Soe Zeya Tun/Courtesy Reuters)


For two decades spent mostly under house arrest, Aung San Suu Kyi was the icon of the Burmese democracy movement, and one of the most famous figures in the world. Jailed in her house, and with the regime totally in control, she had little chance to even engage in politics, and as an icon she remained almost completely above criticism. It was rare that any Burmese democracy advocates, inside or outside of the country, would voice even the mildest criticism of the Nobel Peace Prize laureate.

But over the past year, as she has been released from house arrest and returned to leadership of the National League for Democracy, Suu Kyi has had to make the shift from icon to working politician, a difficult transition that even some of history’s greatest figures, like Nelson Mandela, took time to master. In the London Review of Books, I analyze this transition, and discuss how — and why— Suu Kyi is no longer above criticism in her movement. You read the entire piece here.


Post a Comment 2 Comments

  • Posted by bob walker

    Suu is probably smart enough to know that her political proess is quite limited.
    As opposed to getting mired down in local politics Suu should turn to the outside world and thus limit a head-on collision with the military and her adverseries.
    Hillary should be her friend.
    The Chinese should be her friend.
    The ASEAN nations should be her friend
    Visiting dignitories should be encouraged.

    Her fellow country men will forgive her lack of local politics when they see a new external interest in their country… it will translate into international transparency and employment.

    Keep the Generals and the Chinese to the front [also India ‘and they will allow her an unexpected freedom which is good for the generals and Sino-Burmese relations.


  • Posted by Peter

    The peculiar working relationship between Ms Su Kyi and General Thein Sein is different from that between South African De Klerk with Mandela and therefore not comparable.

    When President Frederik Willem de Klerk began negotiations to end apartheid in 1990,it was clearly his intention to end the political isolation by the international community,it was a sincere desire.
    The current situation in Burma is vastly different,the generals with General Than Shwe as its head have managed to push through an elections with majority control in the parliament and appointed his figure head general Thein Sein as president,their problem now is still the lack of Western acceptance through sanctions,the reluctance of their friends in ASEAN to accept them due to Western pressure. The result of this current shadowy show.

    Ms Su Kyi is not a politician but leart a very useful when she made the her first major political mistake in 1990 after her party won the majority seats in that free elections.When the generals were slow in the hanging over of power,the late Ex-Prime Minister U Nu called for the formation of an interim government to take over,she refused and trusted the generals for a proper handover,which never materialised.

    Now 21 years later,she is facing with a more difficult situation with the military turned civilian government in place.

    The only difference is that the military of Burma is less united as before with the official departure of General Than Shwe,how she manages her relationship with the various military factions will decide her future,rather than how she develops as a politician.

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