Let’s think ahead and imagine a political scenario for Burma in 2015: The election is free and fair, and Aung San Suu Kyi’s party, the National League for Democracy (NLD), wins by a landslide for more seats in the legislature, but the Constitution has yet to be amended, barring Suu Kyi herself from the presidency. Under these circumstances, who else from her party could take the lead?
At the moment, there seems to be no qualified candidate.
The election in 2015 could have far greater ramifications for Burma’s future than the previous election in 2010. But that will depend on whether the main political parties, especially the biggest opposition party, the NLD, can move forward from their old ways and groom other leaders for the country’s top political position.
“In my view, the NLD’s main strength is Daw Aung San Suu Kyi herself. The obvious weakness of the party is the fact that it hasn’t reformed well and systematically,” says Dr Yan Myo Thein, a political analyst who was detained after taking part in the 1988 pro-democracy protests and now writes regularly for local publications.
It’s high time, he says, for the Nobel Peace laureate to “focus on institutionalizing the party for future generations,” preparing other members for the 2015 election and beyond.
Suu Kyi’s decision to contest a seat in last year’s parliamentary by-elections may not have been the best strategy, he adds, because her legislative duties are time consuming. “Since she entered Parliament, reforms in her party have been very weak,” he says.
Another political analyst, Ko Wa, also known as Ye Naing Aung, agrees.
“I don’t mean that her current strategy is wrong,” he says. “I suppose, however, that it would be better for the NLD—and for the country—if Daw Aung San Suu Kyi placed more of an emphasis on party reform, and if she negotiated and collaborated with other political forces.”
Ko Wa was a leading member of the Democratic Party for a New Society, which was formed after the 1988 uprising, and he was later imprisoned for his activism. His commentaries are regularly published in several journals in Rangoon.
He says that the NLD and other opposition parties currently lack a common strategy for 2015, with disagreement over whether it would be better to amend the Constitution quickly, before the election, or to wait and tackle amendments afterward. “We need to have our own political roadmap,” he says.
Yan Myo Thein agrees that the NLD and other opposition parties lack a sense of unity, which he says is stronger among ethnic parties. “The NLD should take a leadership role among all allied parties,” he says. “Daw Aung San Suu Kyi should lead the formation of an allied association with all democratic forces.”
Calls for a common political roadmap are commonly heard in the circle of Burmese political activists and analysts these days. But rather than unifying opposition forces and grooming future leaders, it seems that Suu Kyi’s strategy has been to focus on building her own personal ties with current leaders in the government, Parliament and the military. She has attempted to make friends with the big players in Naypyidaw, apparently hoping that gaining their trust could pave the way for constitutional amendments that would make her eligible for the presidency or vice presidency.
Many agree that confidence building between the opposition and current military and ex-military leaders is important for national reconciliation. But in recent days, Suu Kyi has been quietly criticized for her lack of collaboration with other democratic forces, including ethnic parties.
It is still relatively taboo to disparage the democracy icon in the world of Burmese politics, but many observers believe that the time has come to be more critical of her political strategy—as the next election is only about 30 months away.
She may or may not get a chance to become president. But either way, says Yan Myo Thein, by taking a look at her party and working to train other leaders, Suu Kyi can and should “leave the legacy of a robust political institution for future generations.”