Suu Kyi sounds a provocative note

For two decades, Aung San Suu Kyi was a radiant symbol of dignified non-violent resistance, most of that time confined to house arrest by the generals who have governed Myanmar for half a century.

Today, she is at the pinnacle of adoration and power in the country, having led her party, the National League for Democracy, to a landslide victory this month in parliamentary elections.

She has put reconciliation with the generals high on her agenda, but as she has moved toward dominance, her words have become provocative.

Her first sally came just before the November 8 election, when she brushed aside a constitutional provision that bars her from serving as president because she is the widow of a foreigner and the mother of foreign-born children.

“I will be above the President,” she declared in a phrase that has ricocheted around the political arena. “I will run the government, and we will have a President who will work with the policies of the NLD.”

This end run around the law was in keeping with her assertion that she would maintain “the good parts” of the Constitution, which was drawn up by the generals to protect their political and economic interests.

It was nonetheless an audacious assertion by a woman who spent 15 years as a prisoner of the generals, and her peremptory manner surprised those who have viewed her as a caged bird at the mercy of her tormentors.

Now, as she prepares at age 70 to take over the government she fought for so long, what some see as her domineering, imperious style has raised questions about her fealty to the rule of law and about the way she plans to exercise power.

“Here you have a person who basically said, ‘I am going to take over,’” said David I. Steinberg, a Myanmar specialist at Georgetown University. “But she’s going to have a terrible problem if she tries to exert her authority, and if it looks like she’s being condescending to the military and is on a confrontational path.”

Suu Kyi’s leadership style was evident in the marching orders she gave members of her party during and after the election. She kept her candidates on a short leash, making them her direct proxies.

Suu Kyi’s supporters acknowledge a certain high-handedness, but the most ardent do not see it as a fault. “Humble?” asked Win Htein, part of her inner circle who sits on a 15-member council that meets with her regularly.

“Why should she be? She has been waiting for this result for 20 or 30 years. Of course she is proud.”

— New York Times News Service

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