Is There Any Hope for Democracy in Myanmar?

The cautious optimism following Aung San Suu Kyi's release

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After being held under house arrest for 15 of the past 21 years, pro-democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi was freed by Myanmar's military junta Saturday. The Nobel Peace Prize laureate has been a tireless advocate of human rights and democracy in a country that enjoys little of either. After her release, she voiced enthusiasm for continuing reform efforts. "I'm not going to be able to do it alone. You've got to do it with me. One person alone can't do anything as important as bringing change and democracy to a country," she said. Is there any hope for Myanmar (still referred to as Burma by some)?

  • There's a Lot of Hope for the Future, writes Alex Wagner at AOL:

Ultimately, it's still too early to determine how Aung San Suu Kyi's release will determine Burma's political future. For now, it's clear that her freedom has changed the dynamic on the ground considerably. "People are talking about her on the street," Genser said. "You never hear Burmese discuss politics in public."

The streets of Rangoon, alive with celebration over the return of a democratic icon to the national stage, remain filled with optimism -- and for Burma's citizenry, the hope for what might be possible has not yet crested. "People are really looking for leadership -- they need guidance," Min Zin said. "This is prime time for Aung San Suu Kyi."

Miss Suu Kyi has to play a hand which is at once weak and strong with great finesse. Her first statements over the weekend, encouraging her supporters not to lose hope and to stand up for what is right, struck the right note. Among her priorities must be the healing of the breach between the NLD and the breakaway National Democratic Force, which contested last week's election. She has said she is willing to meet General Than Shwe, the supreme leader, perhaps a hint that the uncompromising stand she has maintained over the past 20 years could be softened by the need to find a modus vivendi with the junta which would give the opposition leeway to regroup. At stake is nothing less than the redemption of a country raped by one of the most brutal and incompetent regimes in the world. We wish her well.

  • Democratic Reform Will Be Much More Difficult Than People Think, writes The Independent's editorial board:

The dilemma facing Ms Suu Kyi is that almost any move she makes now can be used against her – either to show that she is a threat to stability, or an irrelevance. The generals will not call another election imply to please the NLD, and might pounce on any suggestion that they dispute the election result as an excuse to lock up its leader again.

As she ponders difficult choices, there is, tragically, not much that her many foreign friends, including David Cameron and Barack Obama, can do. Comparisons with South Africa in the early 1990s are again misleading. The reason why the Nationalists threw in the towel in South Africa was not just because the world disapproved of apartheid or because of the sports boycott. It was because its economy was beginning to buckle under an effective sanctions regime, which most of South Africa's neighbours upheld at some cost to their own prosperity.

Burma's rulers have no such difficulties with their neighbours.

The decision to free Aung San Suu Kyi shows the junta realise that having a single iconic focus for resistance is counterproductive, but we have no evidence that they have any intention of weakening their own position or allowing genuine democratic reform.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.