Suu Kyi’s fame risks eclipsing new Myanmar stars
BANGKOK AUNG San Suu Kyi’s iconic allure has helped train the eyes of the world on Myanmar’s democracy struggle, but some experts say her star appeal could thwart the rise of a new generation of leaders.
The Nobel laureate, who has come to personify Myanmar’s efforts to shrug off the yoke of decades of dictatorship, made her parliamentary debut on Monday in the latest chapter in her transformation from renowned political prisoner to MP.
The 67-year-old has suggested she is willing to accept the mantle of president if, as expected, her party wins 2015 elections seen as the apex of recent reforms.
But many are already asking who could follow in the footsteps of ‘The Lady’.
Western governments showed great interest in finding ‘political alternatives’ to Suu Kyi when she was under house arrest before controversial November 2010 elections, said Renaud Egreteau, a Myanmar expert at the University Hong Kong.
“Two years later, idolatry is back. Alternatives within the democratic opposition are again marginalised.” Suu Kyi has said she has tried shunning the ‘icon’ label since being propelled into Myanmar’s political scene during a failed student uprising against the junta in 1988.
But as the daughter of independence hero Aung San she has failed to escape cult status both at home and abroad.
Some observers argue that a simplistic portrayal of Myanmar’s politics as a battle between a charismatic woman and a cabal of murderous generals could undercut efforts to bring a new generation of democracy leaders to the fore.
That narrative is particularly strong in the West, which has focused on her entrance into mainstream politics as a benchmark for easing strict sanctions.
Her reception as a virtual head of state in Europe last month confirmed her unique place in the imaginations of people who might otherwise struggle to find her long-isolated homeland on a map.
But lavish welcomes during her first major trip abroad in nearly a quarter century have also threatened to strain relations with President Thein Sein, largely acknowledged as the architect of sweeping political changes since he took the helm of a quasi-civilian government last year.
“It is a bit unusual for somebody who is the leader of the opposition to receive such high level treatment,” said Trevor Wilson, former Australian Ambassador to the country.
“I don’t think the international community fully appreciates the role of other parties and political actors in Myanmar,” he said, describing Suu Kyi’s trip to Europe as “not part of the real world”.
While the NLD has become the largest opposition group, parliament remains dominated by the military and army-backed ruling party and with only 43 seats, Suu Kyi’s party is likely to have to form alliances to affect legislation.