Suu Kyi Worries that Reform is a ‘Total Illusion’

By The Irrawaddy 18 June 2015

In a rare interview with the Washington Post, published on Wednesday, Burma’s opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi made long-awaited public comments about the country’s democratic transition, expressing concern that the reforms could turn out to be a “total illusion.”

Speaking to the Washington Post via telephone upon her return from a landmark visit to China, the Nobel Laureate and democracy icon spoke tersely about a range of issues from Sino-Burmese relations to Rohingya statelessness.

Regarding her trip to China, where she met with President Xi Jinping, Suu Kyi remarked only that she had a “good discussion” with the country’s leaders, emphasizing the need to maintain peace with neighbors. The contents of the discussions, she maintained, were “considered private.”

She was slightly more straightforward regarding domestic affairs, touching on constitutional reform, electoral prospects and her view on the rights of minorities.

Her party, the National League for Democracy (NLD), has put enormous efforts into changing Burma’s Constitution, which was drafted by the military in 2008 and grants sweeping political powers to the armed forces. It also denies her a chance at the presidency.

Asked whether the charter might be amended before elections slated for early November, Suu Kyi said that while it was possible, the NLD was “not counting on it.”

Six-party talks with senior officials such as President Thein Sein and Commander-in-Chief have thus far proven fruitless, and Suu Kyi conceded in the interview that the government is “not really very interested in negotiating.”

Members of the NLD “do worry that the reforms will turn out to be a total illusion,” Suu Kyi said, in one of her boldest statements to date on the state of reform, adding that the government needs to show “concrete steps” of genuine change.

Her answers became a bit more evasive, however, on the issues of Buddhist nationalism and Rohingya statelessness, over which she has received much recent criticism for her silence. Nationalism, she said, was not in itself a bad thing, offering the unenlightening comment that extremism is bad anywhere in the world.

Maintaining her signature ambiguity on the plight of the Rohingya, Suu Kyi said the sensitive issue needed to be addressed “very, very carefully,” admitting that the government was failing to address the problem quickly and effectively.

“In fact,” she said, “I don’t think they’re doing enough about it.”