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Burmese Spring: The return of Aung San Suu Kyi?

Dramatic changes appear to be taking place in Burma. News last week that pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi has backed a return to politics for her party has added credibility to reforms being pushed by President Thein Sein and the “new government” in Naypyidaw that resulted from last year’s controversial election.

Aishwarya Gupta

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Dramatic changes appear to be taking place in Burma. News last week that pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi has backed a return to politics for her party has added credibility to reforms being pushed by President Thein Sein and the “new government” in Naypyidaw that resulted from last year’s controversial election.
Recent developments in what some have dubbed the “Burmese spring” have spurred optimism and words of encouragement from the UN and Washington, its long-time critic. UN secretary-general Ban Ki-Moon and US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton have promised to visit the former pariah state next month to try to encourage the release of more political prisoners and its cautious moves to revitalise this much-repressed state.

The National League for Democracy (NLD) has decided to re-register as a political entity and contest future elections, including the forthcoming by-election for 48 seats – probably early next year. Suu Kyi herself may even run, although there has been no formal word from her yet. If so, there is the possibility of her becoming the opposition leader. This would radically change the landscape of Burma’s political future.

Last week the country won approval from ASEAN to chair the regional body in 2014, amid a range of initiatives to ease censorship, liberalise its moribund economy and signs that its new parliament is beginning to function in a representative manner. Uncomfortable motions, such as one calling for the release of political prisoners, have been passed. About 300 political detainees, including the renowned comedian Zarganar, were freed more than a month ago. And another batch is expected to be released soon.

The year since the election and release of Suu Kyi has been marked by positive developments, but analysts and diplomats disagree on whether Thein Sein’s quasi-civilian government is serious about the transition to democracy. There are still fears that the old guard – conservative hardliners linked to former dictator Than Shwe, who retired in March – are pulling the strings, overseeing a clever act of “window dressing” and may stifle any real progress, such as peace talks with ethnic groups still fighting the Tatmadaw (Burmese military) in the country’s north and eastern states. Indeed, many ethnic leaders and opposition activists believe the military regime has not changed its stripes.

What are the prospects of real change? Can Suu Kyi and the National League for Democracy secure a foothold and achieve positive impacts in the “new Burma”? To discuss these issues we have a range of guests familiar with The Lady and the long-running struggles inside Burma:

Justin Wintle (born 1949) is a British academic, author and journalist who is an expert on Southeast Asia. He has written widely on Burma and Vietnam. He published a detailed biography of Aung San Suu Kyi, The Perfect Hostage, in 2007.

Nyo Ohn Myint chairs the Foreign Affairs Committee of National League for Democracy (Liberated Area) – in exile — and is director of the Foreign Affairs Committee of NCUB. A Mon, he was a former History tutor at Rangoon University (1985-88), and participated in the 1988 Democracy Movement. He was a senior member of the NLD and is a co-founder of the NLD Youth Wing.

Larry Jagan, freelance journalist and Burma specialist, based in Bangkok. He is a former BBC news and current affairs editor, the author of several books and a prolific writer on Burma.

Other speaker/s to be announced.

Please note: A further panel discussion is planned to hear from representatives of ethnic groups about the changes occurring in their homeland, and the struggle for lasting peace.

8pm, Wed November 23
Pricing Details:
Members: No cover charge, buffet dinner is 350 baht
Non-members: 300 baht cover charge without buffet dinner or 650 baht for buffet dinner including cover charge

Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Thailand
Penthouse, Maneeya Center Building
518/5 Ploenchit Road (connected to the BTS Skytrain Chitlom station)
Patumwan, Bangkok 10330
Tel.: 02-652-0580-1
Fax: 02-652-0582
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