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Aung San Suu Kyi and the Burmese Election

by Joshua Kurlantzick
A supporter holds up a portrait of Myanmar pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi during an election campaign of the National League for Democracy (NLD) party in Yangon March 28, 2012. A supporter holds up a portrait of Myanmar pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi during an election campaign of the National League for Democracy (NLD) party in Yangon March 28, 2012. (Courtesy Reuters)

Over on New Mandala, Nicholas Farrelly makes some important points about Aung San Suu Kyi’s campaign for a parliamentary seat in the April 1 Burmese by-elections. Most notably, he writes that “it is much more dangerous for President Thein Sein if Aung San Suu Kyi fails to win her seat.” Indeed, I think this point has been poorly understood and underestimated. All of the harassment, intimidation, and other methods to keep the National League for Democracy (NLD) from campaigning as effectively as they should will actually be counterproductive to the president if Suu Kyi loses or if the NLD loses most of the seats. Read more »

What Will Happen on Myanmar’s By-Election Day?

by Joshua Kurlantzick
A man sits in his home as pictures of Myanmar pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi and her father General Aung San hang on the wall in Phwartheinkha village. A man sits in his home as pictures of Myanmar pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi and her father General Aung San hang on the wall in Phwartheinkha village. (Soe Zeya Tun/Courtesy Reuters)

The upcoming by-elections in Myanmar will be closely watched, both by people inside the country and by the international community. The United States and many other nations that have sanctions on Myanmar are viewing the by-elections as a critical test of whether the reforms put into place over the past year and a half have legs, and whether the government is truly willing to allow the National League for Democracy (NLD) to play a major role, since it is likely that Aung San Suu Kyi and other NLD candidates are going to win a sizable majority, if not almost all, of the contested by-election seats. Read more »

Suu Kyi as a Candidate

by Joshua Kurlantzick
Supporters carry a bust of Myanmar pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi as she arrives in Mandalay March 3, 2012. Supporters carry a bust of Myanmar pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi as she arrives in Mandalay March 3, 2012. (Soe Zeya Tun/Courtesy Reuters)

In today’s New York Times, Thomas Fuller has an excellent piece exploring the challenges faced by Aung San Suu Kyi as she attempts to make the transformation from longtime (and jailed) icon to politician. Fuller mentions that, since she is now a working politician, Suu Kyi has to offer solutions to the country’s problems, rather than just leading the dissent — and those problems are enormous. But he does not mention in detail the fact that, among some Burmese Democrats, there is concern that simply by working closely with the government, Suu Kyi is hurting her own image, since it still remains unclear where the reform path is headed. Read more »

Can Suu Kyi Make the Shift from Icon to Politician?

by Joshua Kurlantzick
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. Read more »

Watching Before Moving Further on Burma

by Joshua Kurlantzick
Myanmar democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi shakes hands with people outside the National League for Democracy (NLD) head office after a meeting in Yangon November 18, 2011.

Myanmar democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi shakes hands with people outside the National League for Democracy (NLD) head office after a meeting in Yangon November 18, 2011 (Soe Zeya Tun/Courtesy Reuters).

With the announcement that Secretary of State Clinton will be traveling to Burma in early December, the first visit by such a high-level U.S. official in five decades, U.S.-Burma relations are actually moving so rapidly that it is hard to keep up with the change — something I never thought I would find myself writing about Burma. But in anticipation of the visit, it’s important to critically examine how to proceed from here. The government of new president Thein Sein already has presided over more opening than any Burmese government in at least two decades, but the administration should be watching these key markers to see that reform is continuing to progress: Read more »

Hillary Clinton to Myanmar

by Joshua Kurlantzick
U.S. President Barack Obama announces that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will travel to Myanmar, on the sidelines of the ASEAN Summit in Bali.

U.S. President Barack Obama announces that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will travel to Myanmar, on the sidelines of the ASEAN Summit in Bali (Jason Reed/Courtesy Reuters).

In what is surely the biggest news in U.S.-Myanmar relations in fifty years, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has announced that she will be traveling to Myanmar next month. On the same day, Aung San Suu Kyi announced she will be re-entering politics, setting the stage for her and her party, the National League for Democracy, to contest the next elections, which are believed to be coming in 2015. As the New York Times reported, “The twin events underscored the remarkable and sudden pace of change in Myanmar, which has stunned observers inside and outside the country.”

Clinton’s trip, though it caps off a year of serious reforms in Myanmar, is still something of a gamble. The new president, Thein Sein, does indeed seem to be a reformer, and possibly Myanmar’s de Klerk or Gorbachev. He has presided over an opening of the media environment, privatization of many companies,  a relaxation on political parties, a new dialogue with Suu Kyi, the freeing of significant numbers of Burma’s thousands of political prisoners,and a push to convince exiles who have fled the country to return. Still, many doubts remain about how much power Thein Sein himself wields, and whether the generals who formally retired after the elections last November will allow reform to continue.

In a piece last week for The New Republic, I outlined these challenges.

Read more »

Burma’s Reforms Starting to Appear More Real

by Joshua Kurlantzick
Mynamar's Aung San Suu Kyi meets President Thein Sein at the presidential palace in Naypyitaw.

Mynamar's Aung San Suu Kyi meets President Thein Sein at the presidential palace in Naypyitaw. (Myanmar News Agency/Courtesy Reuters)

A front-page article in Friday’s New York Times, entitled “Detecting a Thaw in Myanmar, U.S. Aims to Encourage Change” captures the frankly shocking new spirit of reform emerging in recent weeks in Burma. The pace of the apparent reforms has surprised many cynics, including myself – I have long warned that any reforms should be seen as superficial and likely to be rolled back, as has happened many times in Burma’s modern history. Other doubters, including many in the Obama administration, the U.S. Congress, and the human rights community, including exiled Burmese reformers, also are starting to put aside some of their (well-earned) skepticism. Indeed, this is by far the most optimistic period for Burma in at least two decades, and the optimism is bracing among Burmese who are used to nothing but political stasis and economic misery and mismanagement.

Read more »

Gathering Rapprochement in Burma?

by Joshua Kurlantzick
Myanmar Pro-Democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi and Yangon Division government's security and border affairs minister colonel Tin Win watch the Asean U-19 soccer match in Yangon.

Myanmar Pro-Democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi and Yangon Division government's security and border affairs minister colonel Tin Win watch the Asean U-19 soccer match in Yangon (Soe Zeya Tun/Courtesy Reuters).

As the dialogue between Aung San Suu Kyi and the Burmese government continues, many Burmese observers see this as the most optimistic time in Burmese politics in two decades, since the National League for Democracy won the 1990 elections handily. Much could still go wrong, and of course the history of failed negotiations suggests that the Burmese government could still crush the dialogue with Suu Kyi, but the hope is there. In a new piece for the London Review of Books online, I analyze the potential for real political opening in Burma. Read it online here.

Read more »

What Is Suu Kyi’s Role in Burma Today?

by Joshua Kurlantzick
Aung San Suu Kyi talks to reporters after meeting Tomas Ojea Quintana, U.N. special envoy on human rights in Myanmar, at Suu Kyi's home in Yangon August 24, 2011.

Aung San Suu Kyi talks to reporters after meeting Tomas Ojea Quintana, U.N. special envoy on human rights in Myanmar, at Suu Kyi's home in Yangon August 24, 2011 (Soe Zeya Tun/ Courtesy Reuters).

As Burma’s new president, Thein Sein, appears to be embracing reforms, including launching a dialogue with Aung San Suu Kyi, Suu Kyi’s role in a potentially transformed political landscape has become a major point of debate. Should she try to rebuild the National League for Democracy, get the party legalized, and prepare it – and her – to contest future elections? Should she play a broader, elder stateswoman role, dealing with poverty, environmental destruction, rights abuses, and potential ethnic conflict?

In The New Republic, Hunter Marston and I address the question of Suu Kyi’s role today, and propose pragmatic ways she can play a major role, without endangering herself and her party.

You may read the piece here.

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Myanmar: Failing State?

by Joshua Kurlantzick
Mynamar's Aung San Suu Kyi (L) meets President Thein Sein at the presidential palace in Naypyitaw August 19, 2011.

Mynamar's Aung San Suu Kyi (L) meets President Thein Sein at the presidential palace in Naypyitaw August 19, 2011 (Myanmar News Agency/Courtesy Reuters).

In recent weeks, attention has focused on a potential rapprochement in Burma between the government and longtime opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi. Suu Kyi traveled for the first time to the new capital of Naypyidaw, and met with the top government leadership — although she did not meet with former regime head Senior General Than Shwe, who is still believed to wield considerable influence from behind the scenes.

Read more »