You’d never guess Aung San Suu Kyi is 70. Her appearance, smile, conversation and manner suggest a person decades younger. Perhaps this is why one of the two most common comments you hear of her on the streets of Rangoon is “She’s beautiful.” The other is “I love her”.
At the moment Suu Kyi is in the middle of the most daunting electoral battle of her political career. The November elections are an opportunity to transform Burma from a military-controlled into a genuine democracy. The elections are also perhaps the first real chance to place her National League for Democracy in power. As she says “it’s a moment Burma cannot afford to let slip”.
The dice, however, are loaded against her. Even the Union Election Commissioner admits he can only vouch for 30% accuracy of the voters list. A former army general and a former minister of the military-appointed government, he has no compunction saying he hopes the ruling party wins whilst, of course, professing he will be fair. But tens of thousands — maybe hundreds of thousands? — of her supporters could find their names missing on voting day.
Amazingly, this could be the smallest of Suu Kyi’s problems. In Rangoon people question how fair will be the voting, how manipulated the count and how doctored the results that are eventually announced. In 1990, when Suu Kyi’s party won 82% of the seats the army annulled the result and continued in power. Could history repeat itself if the outcome in 2015 is similar? Suu Kyi thinks that’s unlikely. But who can be certain?
Yet this is not all. To win a simple majority Suu Kyi has to actually win two-thirds of the constituencies contested in November. This is because a quarter of the seats in Parliament are reserved for the army.
Only the rest are open to civilian politicians. So to win an overall majority — and thus hope to come to power and more about that later — Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy has to win 67% of the seats. It’s a tall task though Suu Kyi is confident she can do even better.
Even so, Suu Kyi’s party could come to power but not Suu Kyi herself. This is because the Constitution the generals gave Burma in 2010 placed a bar on a citizen married to a foreigner or whose children are foreign citizens becoming president. It was designed to rule out Suu Kyi. There’s not a single other Burmese politician who this would affect.
The one thing going for Suu Kyi — and in a true democracy it counts above everything else — is that the Burmese people are fully behind her. The only flags and posters you see in Rangoon carry the red colour and the fighting peacock symbol of her party. The army-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party is invisible, inaudible and rarely spoken about.
Last week, when I interviewed her at her lakeside home in Rangoon, Suu Kyi was neither intimidated by the challenges she has to overcome nor complacent about them. What stood out was her determination. I think she knows this is her moment and she is ready to grasp it.
In Burma, both out of deference but also affection, they call her ‘The Lady’. And what a lady she is! If this piece has aroused your curiosity watch the interview on India Today Television on Wednesday night and you’ll discover there isn’t another quite like her.
The views expressed are personal