Myanmar freedom fighter could become president, says former diplomat and ANU expert.
The freedom to express dissent without inciting violence could well be Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi’s legacy.
But it’s yet to be seen what she could achieve in parliament, a former ambassador turned ANU academic says.
For more than 20 years, Suu Kyi sought the release of political prisoners in the former military junta, advocated sanctions against the government, and tried to rally support for her party, the National League for Democracy.
“More than anyone else, she has sought to ensure that governments in her country pay greater attention to the needs of the ordinary people,” ANU College of Asia and the Pacific visiting fellow Trevor Wilson said ahead of her impending visit to ANU this Friday.
Sidelined from contesting Myanmar’s 2010 election because it was held a week before her release from one of many periods of house arrests, Suu Kyi announced in June this year she wanted to become president in 2015, when national elections are planned as part of an ongoing transition from decades of military rule.
Commenting on the Nobel Peace Prize Laureate’s chances, Wilson said a military-drafted constitution which disqualifies her from being a candidate for president, because her two sons and late husband are foreigners, was not necessarily the end of the matter.
“The parliament recently set up a committee to consider revisions to the constitution before the elections, leading some observers to predict that a deal might clear the way for a Suu Kyi presidency,” Wilson pointed out.
He also suggested Myanmar’s President Thein Sein, who is not seeking a second term, would not oppose Suu Kyi in her quest to take the top job.
“Thein Sein is absolutely committed to reform,” he said.
“He is really very open.”
Myanmar took a big step towards democracy in August 2012, when the government informed print journalists that they would no longer have to submit their work for censoring before publication.
“I would say, in terms of political freedoms, that Myanmar is freer than China,” Wilson, who served as Australia’s ambassador to the country from 2000 to 2003 added.
“But the process of democratisation is far from complete.”
When she comes to ANU on November 29, Suu Kyi will receive an Honorary Doctorate during a ceremony at the University’s Llewellyn Hall.
She will also meet with Myanmar students who have been sponsored by AusAid to study at ANU.
“She wants to talk about what they are studying and why,” Wilson explains.
The University’s connection with Myanmar includes a regular series of conferences that focus on recent economic, political and social conditions in the country.
Known as the Myanmar/Burma Update, they have been held approximately every 18 months since their inception in 1999.
The main objective is to inform government agencies, policy makers, the corporate sector, NGOs, journalists and members of the Australian community about the country.
Wilson was invited as a guest speaker in 2002, and as a visiting fellow, later agreed to organise the conferences, and produce an accompanying book.
He always ensures Suu Kyi, who he first met in 2000, receives a copy.
As a diplomat with the Australian foreign service, he had numerous opportunities to meet with Suu Kyi while living in Myanmar from 2000 to 2003.
A subsequent friendship included hosting afternoon teas and providing Suu Kyi’s household with fresh eggs.
“My wife had chooks in the grounds of the (Australian) Ambassador’s residence,” Wilson recalls.
Suu Kyi’s visit to Canberra will follow one by President Thein Sein in March – the first Myanmar president to do so in nearly 40 years.
Her many accolades include the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991, the Jawaharlal Nehru Award for International Understanding in 1992 and the Wallenberg Medal in 2011.
She joins a list of leaders who have received Honorary Degrees from ANU, including Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela, who received his Honorary Doctor of Laws in 2000, and Indonesian Vice President Dr Boediono, who received his honorary degree earlier this month.
Daw Aung San Suu Kyi will receive an honorary doctorate from ANU at 11am this Friday.