Thursday, October 18, 2012

Suu Kyi: wins and losses


Thursday, 18 October 2012 13:28 Myat Thu Pan   

(Commentary) – Suu Kyi's recent US trip was a huge win for her as well as a very crucial loss.

The big win was the outpouring of accolades, tributes and adulation from the UN, Americans all over the nation and by the Burmese diaspora. She reaped tributes for all her sacrifices and steadfast defense of freedom for all Burmese, and she deserves it all without a doubt.

Burma opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi takes a question from a university audience in Kentucky during her US tour. Looking on is US Sen. Mitch McConnell. Photo:University of Louisville

Her loss is Khun Htun Oo, the Kachins and the ethnic groups and their regard for her. This is much much more crucial.

Khun Htun Oo is a big voice. She was compelled to answer Khun Htun Oo and her ethnic brethren’s' criticism from the podiums of the US. That should not have been the case. Her reasons for not criticizing the government on ethnic issues should have been communicated to Khun and the rest of the ethnic and democratic leaders way before the misunderstanding arose, by networking actively and making known to them her strategy in reconciliation with the president.

Her reasoning was that the NLD is not the government therefore she did not want to take sides.  Taking a side could be like a genie, once let out it could be hard to take back.

Her power as a democratic leader is enormous not only for Burma but for the whole free world, and she cannot allow herself to now be reduced to only the leader of the NLD. Once an icon, she will always be an icon with additional responsibility as a lawmaker. This is her cross to bear.

The scenario that is playing out between Suu Kui and the ethnic groups is extremely critical for the transition to full democracy. Suu Kyi has said she is ready to lead the nation. She may be psychologically ready to lead the nation, but first she has to be ready to be the head of a coalition of all democratic parties, ethnic parties, the 88 students group and civic groups.

She must bring them together under the umbrella of a united democratic front before she does serious negotiated compromises like what she said she wanted to do at the Institute of Peace in Washington, DC.

The negotiation with Thein  Sein will be ineffective if the ethnic parties are not together with her at the negotiation table. If she goes one direction and the ethnic groups go another at the table one can imagine the kind of disarray that will weaken the bargaining power of the democratic bloc.

But ultimately it will be the ethnic insurgency groups who will have the most bargaining power. They hold the trump card because if the political negotiations fail they will go back to the jungle and fight again. Even if the NLD wins in 2015, it will be a rather impotent government, as the powerful army will still have its steely grip on the NLD-led parliament and on the country.  And Burma will be back to square one.

The most glaring NLD weakness is its lack of a designated team of top-rated political strategists and advisers to Suu Kyi. In contrast, Thein Sein is way ahead of her in having a very savvy group of advisers and four ministers without portfolio to assist him. Then he also acquired a Western company to mediate between the government and the insurgents groups. He is way ahead in the learning curve.

The old guard in Suu Kyi's party has done their job very well as revolutionaries, but now Suu Kyi needs to play an entirely different game. Right now even Win Tin, the only adviser who dares to go against her, is ill. Of course, Burma lacks experts given five decades of loss in intelligentsia and democratic institutions.

She needs to seek out world-class advisers and political strategists, who have helped many developing democracies around the world.  Not only her but Thein Sein and the government also need them.

She also needs a world class support system in terms of designated experts in democracy development, negotiation, economic advisers, management experts, media experts, a tech team, education: it’s a long list, plus a crucial office support team with fluent English.

Suu Kyi only has two years to get ready before the 2015 elections. She can still cut her losses and shake up her staff, make amends with ethnic leaders and most important of all have a coherent plan and execute it effectively, if she is looking towards leading the nation after the 2015 elections.

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