Historic polls likely to catapult Suu Kyi to public office

Myanmar's former military rulers once despised Aung San Suu Kyi so much they would not speak her name.

world Updated: Apr 01, 2012 01:15 IST
Aung San Suu Kyi,Myanmar,pro-democracy movement

Myanmar's former military rulers once despised Aung San Suu Kyi so much they would not speak her name.

They vowed to "annihilate" her pro-democracy movement. They jailed and tortured her supporters. They locked the soft-spoken dissident in her own home for the better part of two decades, declaring her political career over.

But after an era tenaciously spent trying to silence their most prominent critic, Myanmar's military-backed leaders are now on the verge of an extraordinary turnaround, welcoming her into parliament.

On Sunday, this tiny village of thatched bamboo huts is expected to help vote the frail but intensely stalwart opposition leader into public office for the first time, raising the prospect she could win the presidency itself during the next ballot in 2015.

The by-election held to fill just 45 vacant legislative seats in a 664-member bicameral assembly will not change the balance of power in a country still heavily controlled by a deeply feared military.

But Suu Kyi's campaign made possible by a fragile detente with a government that's embarked on a stunning series of democratic reforms over the last few months has galvanised Myanmar's downtrodden masses and resurrected hope.

In Wah Thin Kha, one of the dozens of dirt-poor villages south of the main city Yangon that the 66-year-old Nobel Peace Prize laureate is vying to represent, the only clinic for 3,000 souls is abandoned its walls cracked, its shelves empty of vital medicines. "She can change everything," said Kyaw Win Sein, standing in a sea of green and yellow rice fields.

After 49 years at the helm, Myanmar's entrenched junta finally ceded power last year to a civilian government dominated by retired officers that skeptics decried as a proxy for continued army rule.

First Published: Mar 31, 2012 23:05 IST