Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Obama and Aung San Suu Kyi: A Pragmatic US Shift on 'The Lady'?

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Obama and Aung San Suu Kyi: A Pragmatic US Shift on 'The Lady'?

Article excerpt

As he arrives in Myanmar for the ASEAN regional summit, US President Barack Obama is confronting a brewing electoral drama - one that once involved bright White House hopes for Aung San Suu Kyi, the democracy icon and opposition politician.

During years of military rule in Myanmar, the US backed the ideals of Ms. Aung Song Suu Kyi, a Nobel Peace Prize-winner and universal moral voice who long suffered house arrest. Today, both US leaders and ordinary people on the streets want "the Lady," as she is known, to contend for the nation's top office.

Yet even as Myanmar moves away from Army rule, Aung San Suu Kyi remains constitutionally blocked from becoming president. She finds herself under heavy criticism for saying little about the mistreatment of Myanmar's ethnic Royhinga minority, who are also Muslim. And it is increasingly clear that the former generals running the quasi-civilian government fully intend to play a major role in the next government.

That has forced some pragmatic calculation on the White House, which wants to claim Myanmar as a foreign policy success. Now, Aung San Suu Kyi is complaining publicly about what she calls a tilt toward the ruling party as the US appears to back off hopes for some kind of breakout story involving the Nobel Prize-winner.

Things here are changing, to be sure: Newspaper editors here have taken to running front-page photo spreads of four key political figures, all assumed to be presidential aspirants: Aung San Suu Kyi, President Thein Sein, parliamentary speaker Shwe Mann, and Min Aung Hlaing, the commander-in-chief of the armed forces.

Those photos are a sign of progress. Media censorship was only abolished in 2012, after Aung San Suu Kyi was released from house arrest and allowed back into the political process.

But despite some media and political reforms, Myanmar's transition remains a work in progress.

While ruling party lawmakers have signaled they may agree to amend the 2008 Constitution engineered by the former junta, and reduce the military's guaranteed 25 percent share of parliament, they're not changing a notorious clause excluding people with foreign-born spouses or children (read: Aung San Suu Kyi) from the presidency. …

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