In a functioning democracy facing a general election, Aung San Suu Kyi would be president-in-waiting of a country yearning for her leadership. A fair and free election would give her the leadership mandate she and her party won in 1990, only to have it annulled by a regime determined to hold on to power.
After its defeat in 1990, the regime can now be expected to use every ruse to make sure it retains executive power after the 2010 election. The rigged constitution forced on the country in May 2008 bars Suu Kyi from holding high political office, while her National League for Democracy is already experiencing pre-election intimidation.
It’s painful indeed to see a country that would benefit immeasurably from Suu Kyi’s leadership being shoved by a frightened military regime deeper into the abyss. That scenario, however, should not be allowed to silence the legitimate demand for Suu Kyi to be recognized as the rightful president of Burma. The board of The Irrawaddy wholeheartedly endorses that demand.
She warrants that title not only through public acclaim but also because of her outstanding leadership qualities and strength of character, which more than 13 years of house arrest and now the additional ordeal of a stage-managed trial have done nothing to blunt.
Despite the injustices and humiliation heaped upon her by a malicious regime and its thuggish supporters, Suu Kyi has never shown any antagonism towards her jailers, calling instead for national reconciliation and peaceful political dialogue. She has coolly displayed style and substance, winning support across the political spectrum in Burma.
Much of that support has been silenced behind prison walls where more than 2,000 political prisoners are serving draconian sentences. The country could benefit greatly from a Suu Kyi leadership drawing on the talents of people like the Shan leader Hkun Htun Oo, former Defense Minister General Tin Oo who is now under house arrest, veteran journalist-activist Win Tin, 88 Student Generation leaders Min Ko Naing, Ko Ko Gyi, Jimmy, Nilar Thein and Su Su Nway.
Former army officers could also be called on to help lead the country in a new direction, while Burmese expatriates would willingly return to join in the effort.
Realistically, Suu Kyi couldn’t be expected to have the silver bullet to solve all Burma’s grave problems, but nobody else has the qualities necessary to build a broad coalition, win the trust of ethnic nationalities and open up Burma to the rest of the world. She would recreate an untarnished international image of Burma and restore the confidence of important countries, including China and India.
She would also clean up the image of Burma’s armed forces and their leaders and, by virtue of her own lack of rancor, save them from the Burmese people’s wrath.
A president Suu Kyi would be comfortable on the world stage with leaders like US President Barack Obama and British Prime Minister Gordon Brown—both of whom have spoken out strongly on her behalf. She would speak on equal terms with Chinese President Hu Jintao and Thai Prime Minister Abihist Vejjajiva and restore her country’s moral authority in the region. Burma would at last have a national leader who is assured of a warm welcome in all the world’s capitals.
The pariah regime now ruling Burma doesn’t like to hear these truths, of course, but its leading generals should have the sense to realize by now that enough is enough, that only Suu Kyi can restore to the country the dignity they seem to value so much.
The world at large and Burma’s oppressed citizens are more than ready to welcome and extend hands of friendship and co-operation to a President Aung San Suu Kyi.