News / Asia

Q&A: Burma's New Political Landscape

Supporters of Burma's pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi celebrate outside her home after her release from house arrest in Rangoon, 13 Nov 2010.
Supporters of Burma's pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi celebrate outside her home after her release from house arrest in Rangoon, 13 Nov 2010.

The release of Burmese opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi from house arrest Sunday spurred supporters inside the country to say that hope had returned. But some political observers are warning that one person alone cannot change Burma.

One of those skeptics is Khin Zaw Win, a pro-democracy activist who was jailed in Burma from 1994 to 2005 for peacefully criticizing the government. He now runs the civil society organization the Tampadipa Institute and advocates on behalf of the National Democratic Force, an opposition group that formed after breaking away from Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy, or NLD.

He tells VOA that the NLD's decision to not participate in the elections is an example of the opportunities it has squandered to keep the military government in check. He says Aung San Suu Kyi's opposition movement is out of touch and must adjust its strategy to stimulate real change.

You have expressed some frustration with the main opposition movement for not doing enough to challenge the government in a constructive way. Now that Aung San Suu Kyi is out, does this help or hinder the direction you think the country needs to take?

"Well, I would say in all fairness, it could help. I wouldn’t say that it’d automatically help. But she and the former NLD will have to make their effort too. Of course, her voice is internationally heard. And she’s been saying the right things [Sunday] in her speech. So we want to see some of that really translated into really positive action that will have a beneficial result and impact on what’s happening now."

And what kind of action are you looking for?

"Well, she’s been around for a long time. She knows how to deal with this regime. Most importantly, to learn from her past mistakes. Those mistakes have affected not only her but, also. the entire country. I think it’s high time that she took stock of what has happened and make the necessary course corrections."

And what mistakes are you thinking of?

"The mistakes, well, from 1980 onwards, because of her father’s name and her stature, and her name itself. I think the military itself gave her many, many opportunities, reaching out to her, and she didn’t take them properly. Again, she’s talking about demanding dialogue and human rights. The regime unfortunately is not going to listen to that. I was in prison for 11 years. I’ve been watching it from afar. She got opportunities that no one else could ever dream of getting. They were just summarily thrown away. I think people have to realize that."

So you’d like to see her working more closely with the government?

"No, no, no. Not with the government. But taking a more sober and, I would say, long-term and constructive line. Demanding one-to-one dialogue with a military dictator, I mean, let’s be realistic. And those guys don’t like her. And that’s putting it very gently. So you’ve got to have a good assessment of what you are and what you are capable of. Remember, it’s not only affecting herself and her party. It’s affecting the whole country."

I think it’s important to look at the landscape and how it has changed since Aung San Suu Kyi was last free. There are more opposition parties. There are more development groups in the country. The military is doing business with China and other Asian partners.  How has this changed the social and political discourse?

"If people think that the National League for Democracy is the only vehicle for democratic change and that we’re talking about a single knight in shining armor, that’s not the case unfortunately. There are other players on the scene now not affiliated with the National League for Democracy. The ethnic nationalities, for instance, have forged their own path away from the National League for Democracy. One big difference from the 1990 elections 20 years ago is the presence of a very strong civil society. We didn’t have that in 1990. It’s very much in existence now. And, well to speak frankly, the National League for Democracy is kind of out of sync and quite some distance away from that civil society. It’s not just going to be one organization being the vanguard of democracy. That has changed, and she has to realize that."

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