With Suu Kyi On Board, Is Burma Finally Moving Toward Real Change?
By ASIA SENTINEL Friday, February 3, 2012

(Page 2 of 2)

As the provinces are rich in natural resources, there is great economic incentive for the central government to seek access and control. Until there is an agreed platform to share benefits, resources will remain unharvested for development while all sides waste time on armed skirmishes. The people are caught in the middle.

The Lady, as Suu Kyi is affectionately known, has been consistent in not seeking the overthrow of the regime that disenfranchised her party. She advocates meaningful dialogue but insists on the continuation of economic sanctions by Western governments and international bodies like the United Nations.

Her insistence on blocking Western aid and trade has upset many local NGOs starved of funding for much-needed basic medical, rural agriculture and education programs. The sanctions have also delayed vital investment in infrastructure, hitting ordinary people the most.

She must be aware of the daily hardships suffered by Burma citizens but is keenly conscious that allowing premature withdrawal of economic sanctions will not push the democracy agenda forward but only prolong military rule. She opted to focus on democratic reform and getting the military back to barracks.

Suu Kyi’s unwavering stand may finally have convinced the junta that rehabilitating her could unlock desperately needed foreign investment, expertise, technology, aid and trade.

Thein Sein surprised citizens and political observers when he invited her to his official residence for a meeting on Aug. 19. He discussed the 7-point road map to democracy with her and pledged “step-by-step” progress, suggesting positive cooperation as the way forward.

Suu Kyi was then invited to the government-sponsored conference on macro-economic reforms where she was accorded VVIP status. The change of attitude was evident in the welcoming smiles of the generals and bureaucrats—many jostling for photo ops with her.

Another 600 NLD and other opposition members have been released from prisons. The government says there are no more “political prisoners” in detention, but many dissidents have been charged with “criminal activity” as defined by the military.

Suu Kyi’s meeting with the president was reported on front pages with pictures. The routine vitriolic commentary against her and her party has disappeared from the state press. Her portraits are openly displayed and sold on the streets along with T-shirts and NLD flags.

The Lady has taken the generals at their word. She has placed her trust in the “road map to democracy” at enormous risk to herself and her supporters. Asean’s strategy of “constructive engagement” seems to be finally yielding positive results, while the West’s sanctions add urgency.

Burma is due to assume the chairmanship of Asean in 2014. The world hopes to welcome the country as a responsible member of the international community before then.

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