Aung San Suu Kyi may be one of the world’s most renowned political activists, but when it comes to reviving her impoverished homeland, observers say the opposition leader will need help.
The Nobel laureate spent 15 of the past 23 years under house arrest, a sacrifice that has earned her deep respect both at home and abroad, as shown by the reception given to her in the US this past week.
However, the long years of isolation have also left the Oxford-educated democracy champion sorely lacking in the political experience necessary to tackle Myanmar’s myriad challenges as the country braces for further unprecedented change in the run up to 2015 elections and beyond, analysts say.
Many of the senior figures in her political party also spent years languishing in prison.
Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) has a distinguished leader and massive popular support, “but between the two, it has nothing,” one foreign diplomat said.
“It is not a party of elites and it is not a mass party, because it has no policies,” he said. “There is every chance that it will win in 2015, but it will not be the great revolution day.”
There is little doubt that Myanmar’s opposition leader is already in the process of a stunning metamorphosis.
She was the junta’s nemesis, but Aung San Suu Kyi’s journey into parliament has seen her agree to work with the reforming ex-generals who took the helm of a new regime in March last year.
However, in the lower house of parliament Aung San Suu Kyi and her 41 NLD colleagues had little to say on recent economic debates, including on a foreign investment law seen as crucial in helping drag the long-isolated nation out of poverty.
They “are not experienced in business” said Myat Thin Aung, vice chairman of Yoma bank.
While many of their rivals in the army-backed ruling party ran thriving businesses under the last government and are now “more experienced” on economic issues, “in the opposition many of them were in jail,” he said.
“They have no vision in economy ... They do listen but they don’t understand the whole process,” said Myat Thin Aung, who is also a member of the country’s Union of Myanmar Federation of Chamber of Commerce and Industry.
Observers believe it is now crucial for the democracy champion to recognize this shortfall in expertise — and to make up for it.
The next major political milestone will be the 2015 election, but beyond that new political heavyweights will need to emerge to take the mantle from the veterans of Myanmar’s democracy movement.
“We need to look beyond — 2020, 2030,” said Aung Tun Htet, a respected Yangon intellectual. “As years pass, some of the main characters will gradually fade away. The question then is how do we ensure that the generation that are coming up can work together.”