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Behind, a great journey ends – Ahead, a great journey begins

(Mizzima) – Aung San Suu Kyi’s long, grueling political campaign is almost over – for all but the cheering and accolades that will ring throughout Burma and the world on Sunday evening, and especially in Kawhmu Township, the poor Burmese constituency she will represent after voting ends.
Suu-Kyi-travel-to-Kawhmu-21Call this the opening scene of Act II in her decades-long struggle against an unforgiving, iron-fisted military machine. She will now compete along with other opposition Members of Parliament in trying to influence a quasi-civilian, military dominated government that is chary about its move toward democracy, although it says it is inevitable and will occur in piecemeal steps.

Suu Kyi’s rise-from-ashes ascension – if lacking hard political power – offers a political stage where she can wield her rock-star status and try to coalesce a diverse opposition into a strategic coalition that will target revamping the 2008 Constitution, which gives ultimate legislative control and power to a largely behind-the-scenes collection of generals. But other things must come first. Constitution change will be neigh impossible in the coming years, but positive changes could come rather quickly in further restructuring of media laws, the agricultural sector, the series of hydropower dams to be built by China, improving the delapidated infrastructure, the economic system, the judiciary and embedding a process of rule of law.

And most of all, Suu Kyi may be able to influence a true, long-lasting ethnic peace. The regime has signed the necessary cease-fires with all but the Kachin Independence Army. Now comes the really hard part; how to untie the decades-old knots of distrust around the issue of ethnic autonomy and real power sharing. The two sides are plagued by endemic mistrust.

Suu Kyi is well aware that change is most likely to come through diplomacy with the oppositon rather than confrontation. How she manages to tap down high expectations on the part of eager voters who sense real change in the country will be as important as what she proposes.

The 664-seat Parliament in Naypyitaw will remain in the control of a small circle of reformers, who have their own hardline, conservative political wings to mollify.

Suu Kyi said in a press conference on Friday that her most important partner in change would be the more liberal minded former generals.

Suu Kyi told reporters she hoped "to win the military over, to [make them] understand that we have to work together if we want peace and if we want progress."

The military must understand that "the future of this country is their future and that reform in this country means reform for them as well," she said.

She also tipped her hat to the new political spirit among the grassroots poor and the students. That new political energy crested on Saturday night in Kawhmu Township in Wah Thin Kha village, one of dozens of poverty-stricken villages south of the former capital, Rangoon. Suu Kyi spent the night there, waiting for Sunday morning and the opening of the polls.She is running against the ruling party's Soe Win, a former army doctor.

At stake in the election is the fate of sanctions by international governments. The campaign period was not “free and fair,” Suu Kyi said on Friday, ticking off a series of government abuses and irregularities. Whether the voting and counting of the ballots can meet acceptable international standards will decide the sanctions’ fate – if Suu Kyi says the voting process was acceptable, Western countries will quickly start the unwinding sanctions, probably step by step, which itself will take time.

The surprise surrounding the opening up of Burma has tested credulity, both domestic and international. The government of President Thein Sein, himself a retired lieutenant general, has freed political prisoners, signed truces with rebel groups, and forged a partnership with Suu Kyi, who it needs to take Burma into its next phase of economic and social development.

On Sunday morning, when Suu Kyi woke up in a village filled with poor Karen, soon to be elected a Member of Parliament, she must have sensed the great journey behind her – and the even greater journey ahead.
Last Updated ( Sunday, 01 April 2012 12:40 )  

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