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President or not, I will lead govt, says Suu Kyi

Suu Kyi addressing supporters in Sagaing Division, 27 September 2015. (PHOTO: DVB)

Aung San Suu Kyi has confirmed her intention to lead the government should her opposition party National League for Democracy (NLD) assume power after the upcoming general election, despite being barred from the presidency.

The NLD is widely expected to win a majority in the 8 November polls, but the party’s iconic chairperson is ineligible for the top job due to a constitutional provision 59(f), which excludes those with children and spouses with foreign citizenship. Many critics of the ruling military-backed regime claim the clause was created specifically with the NLD leader in mind.

Speaking in an interview with India Today, Suu Kyi said, “I have made it quite clear that if the NLD wins [the election] and forms a government, I am going to be the leader of that government, whether or not I am the president.”

When asked how she would lead the government without attaining the presidency, she declined to elaborate further, other than to ask: “Do you have to be a president in order to lead the country?”

Suu Kyi said she has always been “a pragmatic politician”, and pointed to the shifting public perception of her in Western countries.

“They [the West] only regarded me as an icon after I became actively involved in politics, after my release from house arrest. They hadn’t actually treated me as an icon before that. There was much more interest in me after I was released than during the days I was under house arrest.”

The Nobel Prize laureate has attracted criticism for her failure to take a strong stance on the plight of the Rohingya Muslim minority, with some observers also pointing to her reluctance to condemn the growing political power of Buddhist nationalists. But The Lady rejected the criticism, acknowledging she will always have critics.

“Previously, when I was under house arrest, I was criticised for not being flexible enough. There were quite a few critics who said if only I hadn’t taken such a tough stand then I would have got on better with the military government. Now they are saying exactly the opposite, that I am not tough enough. I am not taking a strong enough stand. But then that is what politics is like, and that is what the media is like.”

NLD campaigning trucks in Rangoon, 16 September 2015 (PHOTO: DVB)

After boycotting the 2010 election, but then entering the political fray and sweeping seats in the 2012 by-elections, the NLD’s campaign approach this year has taken many commentators by surprise.

The unveiling of their final candidate list alienated many of the most prominent pro-democracy advocates and the Muslim population in one fell swoop, with a decision to reject many members of the 88 Generation, as well as Muslim candidate hopefuls. The party’s final candidate list declined the applications of respected pro-democracy activists and NLD supporters such as Ko Ko Gyi and Nyo Nyo Thin, leading commentators to speculate as to a rift in the party vanguard.

Throughout the election campaign, Suu Kyi has instructed the party faithful not to consider the individual candidate but to instead vote for the NLD regardless.

Speaking at yesterday’s ‘NLD-88 Generation Election Awareness’ event in Rangoon, NLD patron Tin Oo reiterated Suu Kyi’s instructions.

“I would like to remind you all to vote again for the NLD in the upcoming elections with a will to bring about a democratic revival in Burma this year. Just as our slogan goes: ‘Now is time to change! It’s time to change!’” he said.

The opposition party has also been scant on detailing their policy plans, but did reveal their economic policy would centre around five priorities: fiscal prudence; lean and efficient government; revitalizing agriculture; monetary and fiscal stability; and functioning infrastructure.

In a policy document made available to the media, the NLD highlighted the need to clean up both the government and the tax system from corruption and evasion, respectively.

“Burma’s fiscal system weakness principally comes from mal-allocation, unproductive expenditure and extravagant spending,” the party stated in the document.

As the election approaches, the country’s most fascinating woman is clear on one thing: she wants to enact action rather than inspire admiration.

“I don’t like to be called an icon, because icons do nothing except sit on a wall,” she reminded the world in the India Today interview.