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Burma’s long sidelined opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi is “welcome” to join the country’s legislative body should she choose, parliament chief Khin Aung Myint said in a surprising announcement yesterday.
It comes after decades of attempts by the regime in Burma to keep the Nobel laureate away from the policy-making arena – commanding widespread support and influence over large sectors of Burma’s population, Suu Kyi is seen as the key threat to the government’s grip on power.
Yet Khin Aung Myint’s announcement is the latest in a series of signals that suggest Naypyidaw may be moving towards opening up to the political opposition, and follows a meeting last month between Suu Kyi and President Thein Sein, the first time the two have met.
In an interview yesterday with Radio Free Asia, Khin Aung Myint acknowledged the reverence with which the 66-year-old was held among Burmese, particularly in light of her father’s pivotal role in gaining Burma independence from Britain.
“She is the daughter of General Aung San whom we all love. She is welcome if she joins the parliament.”
Given that opposition manoeuvring is often effectively criminalised in Burma, however, Suu Kyi’s position, and that of her National League for Democracy (NLD) party, remains tenuous.
Nyo Ohn Myint, from the NLD-Liberated Area wing of the party, said that Khin Aung Myint’s comment was “strange” given his reputation for being a hardline official.
“I’m not very positive that there will be action [following the announcement],” he said. “It sounds like the regime is trying to improve its image.”
Khin Aung Myint had been a media contact for the former junta before he was elected to parliament chief when the new government came to power in March this year. Nyo Ohn Myint said that while Suu Kyi may indeed be able to join the parliament, it’s highly unlikely she will hold a cabinet position and therefore would be out of any decision-making circles.
Burmese academic and activist Maung Zarni is similarly sceptical. “I feel deeply distrustful of the generals and ex-generals playing nice with Aung San Suu Kyi while they are launching military campaigns in Shan, Kachin, and Karen areas,” he said, in reference to the government’s attempts to rout ethnic armies.
“If they are serious about reconciliation in the country the first thing that needs to be done is to let Daw Aung San Suu Kyi help kick off and facilitate country-wide dialogue.”
But in light of the government’s historical refusal to listen to the opposition leader, Zarni said: “I don’t really see what political gains Daw Suu can reap in terms of her attempts to promote common good for the public”
The government is due to hold a by-election in November to fill seats left vacant in the parliament. Nyo Ohn Myint said however that Suu Kyi, who was refused a role in the elections last year, would likely choose not to compete in the coming polls.
“I don’t think she would be willing to contest the by-election,” he said, given that she knows the uncompromising nature of the government.
Despite this, Suu Kyi claimed yesterday that President Thein Sein, who was prime minister under the former junta, is ”committed to reform”, and that the “way is open for positive change”, a radical departure from her previous hardline stance.
Note: This article was altered at 5pm on 21/09/2011 to correct a statement from Nyo Ohn Myint that was misquoted