In a virtually unprecedented political phenomenon, hostile villagers confronted opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi during the second day of a trip to northwestern Myanmar to explain why she supports continuation of a mining project opposed by many local residents.
In talks with villagers, Ms Suu Kyi failed to persuade her listeners to agree with the conclusions of an official panel she headed that the national interest was best served by allowing continued operation of the Letpadaung copper mine, to encourage foreign investors to help the sagging economy.
At one point, residents barricaded their village in Monywa township with thorny brush and allowed Ms Suu Kyi to enter only when she had shed some of her police escort and accompanying journalists.
Now that her National League for Democracy party is no longer an embattled David fighting the Goliath of a military government, but rather a competitor in the electoral politics of a fledgling democracy, Ms Suu Kyi’s responsibilities have become more complicated.
Last weekend, her party began a restructuring process for a 2015 general election in which Ms Suu Kyi will face opposition from the army-backed party of President Thein Sein on one flank, and from hard-core anti-military activists on the other, as well as from ethnic-affiliated parties.
“This copper mine incident is not really the critical point of Daw Suu’s political career,” said Yan Myo Thein, a former student activist and political analyst. “Public support will decline slightly, but there may not be a grave impact. She has taken a lot of risks as a politician, but the effects will have to be watched closely.” Daw is a term of respect for older women.