The newly elected Aung San Suu Kyi now faces a huge weight of expectations, but analysts say the inspirational dissident might have to temper her grand political goals and deal with bread-and-butter issues.
After decades in the political wilderness, the Nobel laureate finds herself in the position of being co-opted to legitimize the reform agenda and political system of the new military-backed government.
The veteran activist will have to sit down with her former foes to find ways to help farmers, promote investment and develop a country struggling to emerge from five decades of economic mismanagement under the military.
“Whether a minister in charge of a portfolio or a frustrated backbencher, her room for political maneuvering is smaller than as an unattached opponent,” Hong Kong University assistant professor Renaud Egreteau said.
Even if Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) party wins all 44 seats it contested, it cannot challenge the huge legislative majority enjoyed by the military-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP).
In addition, a quarter of the seats in parliament are reserved for unelected military officials, but for the first time after Sunday’s by-elections, the NLD leader will have a voice in the legislature, where lawmakers have for the past year been debating topics ranging from the national budget to healthcare and Chinese energy projects.
A Myanmar expert said Aung San Suu Kyi will have to be pragmatic and buckle down to tackling everyday issues, rather than the grander themes of democracy and constitutional change she championed in her campaign speeches.
“The current USDP parliament is quite energetic. They have done an amazing job in the past year, but their agenda is day-to-day, much more bread-and-butter issues that are the concern of the general population,” said Aung Naing Oo, an analyst at the Vahu Development Institute, a think tank in Thailand. “Aung San Suu Kyi has to talk rhetoric during the election campaign, but what she has said are not quite the day-to-day issues. The most important issue in our country is the economy and Aung San Suu Kyi doesn’t have economic credentials.”
One big question remains: Whether Aung San Suu Kyi could take on some kind of government role.
In January, presidential adviser Nay Zin Latt said there was “a possibility she will be appointed to the government.”
However, no other officials have since raised that possibility and Aung San Suu Kyi on Friday last week said she had no plans to accept a position as minister if it was offered, because by law she would have to give up her seat in parliament.
However, she did indicate that she might be willing to take on some kind of other role, possibly to help resolve the country’s ethnic conflicts.
Whatever she chooses, it is a long way from 2002-2003 when Aung San Suu Kyi, in between periods of house arrest, favored a more confrontational approach toward the junta, notably defying orders not to travel around the country.
Aung Naing Oo said Aung San Suu Kyi would bring prestige and influence to whichever role she chose, but her unyielding character could be an issue.
“She also brings her personality and her determination to the table. It would be like a double-edged sword for some of the people. She also can be problematic, so the key issue here is how well she can push her way in these uncharted waters, either in parliament or in government,” he said.