March 30 marked a historic day for Burma, as the Southeast Asian nation that was for decades beleaguered by military rule saw its first democratically elected civilian government since 1962 sworn into office.
It was a day that student, political and human rights activists—many of whom have withered away in prison cells, died at military detention centers or simply disappeared in midnight raids on their family’s homes—had longed their entire lives to see.
In short, it was a day that all of Burma smiled. Across the country this week, people showed their elation by offering food and drink to passersby. Some bus companies and motorcycle-taxi drivers even offered passengers free rides. The jubilant national mood was enough to make anyone in Burma’s previous governments envious. People were happy to see their long-denied wish for a government by the people, for the people finally come true.
For Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD), which will lead Burma’s new government, March 30 was the day from which it will work to realize core ambitions it has championed since its birth 28 years ago: achieving national reconciliation, negotiating a federal union and extinguishing a civil war that has been raging since independence in 1948.
Beyond the military’s constitutionally enshrined role in politics, other issues await Burma’s newly anointed leadership: wars throughout the north; a far-from-accomplished mission of inter-communal rehabilitation in the west; controversial Chinese investment; rampant government corruption; and a desperate need for the rule of law. These burdens, the legacy of previous governments, will put Suu Kyi’s political mettle to the test.
Of course, no single solution will be a silver bullet. Given the magnitude of these problems, it’s unrealistic to think that Burma’s new civilian government will be able to effectively tackle each in its five-year term. Still, people have high expectations for Suu Kyi, born from their long-held belief that she is the only one who can change their lives and indeed their country for the better. It was this very notion that motivated citizens to overwhelmingly vote for her party in November’s general election. So it will be interesting to see how, and to what extent, the new government will be able to meet people’s sky-high expectations.
Suu Kyi’s mantra is that “a government should serve its people, not oppress them.” It’s hoped that the NLD-led administration will remember this as it steers the country in the years to come. After more than five decades of brutal military rule, followed by five years of a controversial quasi-civilian government, it’s refreshing to have a people-centered government.
Yet regarding this much-hyped change that is supposedly right around the corner, the NLD should keep in mind that people are never patient for very long. History has shown that strong supporters can quickly become even stronger enemies. We believe the new government has what it takes.