Burma: On her 66th birthday, Suu Kyi wishes for peace, stability & prosperity across the nation Print E-mail
~ Monday 20 June 2011


Suu Kyi's Birthday Wish for Burma

Yesterday was the 66th birthday of Burma’s Nobel Peace Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, and well-wishers both at home and around the world marked the occasion with renewed expressions of solidarity with a woman many see as a beacon of hope for a beleaguered nation.

This year's birthday was an especially happy one for Suu Kyi, as she was joined not only by her supporters, but also by her son, Kim Aris, who returned to Burma for the second time since her release from house arrest last November.

Since then, Suu Kyi has been busy meeting international visitors as well as numerous stakeholders from across Burma's political spectrum. Sadly, one group is still missing­her former captors, who continue to keep their distance from her in spite of her repeated calls for dialogue.

But Suu Kyi hasn't given up. “If I were asked what I would wish on my birthday, I wish for peace, stability and prosperity in the country,” Suu Kyi said in a brief address to supporters at her opposition party's headquarters in Rangoon.

This wasn't exactly an olive branch, but it did serve to make clear that Suu Kyi's own goals are not fundamentally different from those professed by Burma's rulers. But for the heirs of a hated regime, this probably wasn't enough to end the enmity they have long shown her.

It has been a long journey for Suu Kyi and her supporters, and it seems that it is still far from over. Indeed, with each passing year, it becomes harder to imagine how they will ever achieve the goal of a democratic Burma. All we know is that there are probably many more obstacles in the road ahead.

In 1988, when Suu Kyi addressed hundreds of thousands of people in her first political speech, she was only 44. Today, analysts wonder whether a much older Suu Kyi, often portrayed as Burma’s Gandhi, will ever succeed in persuading the country's generals to listen to her message of peace.

From the very beginning, there has been no shortage of criticism directed toward Suu Kyi and her party, the 1990 election-winning National League for Democracy. Through all of this, she and the party have been remarkably resilient. At the same time, however, doubts about her ability to turn the situation in Burma around have persisted, and not without good reason.

Now that she is 66, some may wonder how much longer Suu Kyi will be able to continue campaigning for meaningful change in the country. Throughout her political career, she has stuck to the same strategy­refusing to take part in anything she regards as a sham, including, most recently, last year's election, and supporting Western sanctions. Even among those that have long supported her cause, there are some who doubt if this approach will ever pay off.

At the same time, however, everyone agrees that Suu Kyi's absence from Burma's political stage would leave a huge gap. Since 1988, many have invested in her and Burma’s pro-democracy movement, and they will continue to do so.

This is why many foreign officials now say that they will continue to meet with Suu Kyi, to ensure that she is still an icon of the movement and protected in case of any immediate danger or possible detention, even as they pursue other means of increasing their influence in the country.

Since the emergence of a new civilian regime through last year's bogus election, foreign governments are increasingly seeing a need to open a dialogue with other stakeholders and the powers that be to address such issues as lingering ethnic conflict, poverty and humanitarian problems.

At the same time, observers and critics have questioned Suu Kyi’s ability to rebuild a formidable political opposition. They say that while her personal charisma remains a powerful unifying force, her party still lacks institutional capacity, and her own skills in maneuvering through Burma's complex political landscape leave much to be desired. They also question whether Suu Kyi's brand of leadership by heroic example is what a conflict-prone and resource-rich country strategically located between China and India really needs.

To be fair, however, no person could ever be expected to bear the burden that has been thrust upon Suu Kyi. Even her closest supporters say that managing the expectations of people inside and outside of Burma is too much for her alone. Thus, even as she remains her country's greatest hope for change, this hope is tempered with concern about the many perils that lie ahead.

There is no doubt that Suu Kyi remains an important figure in Burma’s political movement, and that she is a great person who has made many sacrifices.

She may not be a great politician, but she is the one who has consistently called for peaceful change and introduced Burmese to the idea that real dialogue is the key to peaceful change.

Suu Kyi should see herself as a political mentor to Burma’s future political generations, an advocate for the freedom of political prisoners, and a voice calling on the new civilian regime to respect human dignity and stop human rights violations in the country. If she can achieve these goals, her wish of seeing peace, stability and prosperity in the country may be fulfilled.

So, as the world wishes Suu Kyi a happy birthday and many happy returns, we would like to do the same, as we hope that her wish for Burma comes true.