The reshaping of Myanmar’s landscape requires more than the image of Suu Kyi as a peace icon or her grand speeches. It needs real policies and politicking.
Aung San Suu Kyi remarks on the January 12th, 2016, the opening day of the 5 day Union Peace Conference in Naypyitaw (Myanmar’s capital) were both a critique of the current peace framework & an indication of how she sees her party steering the peace process within the country. The conference was an extension of the peace deal between the current USDP party and 8 ethnic nations in Myanmar. As surprising as her presence was given her negative remarks on the peace deal, her appearance was less of a nod to the current peace process, and more of a declaration of how she look to reshape Myanmar. She has made it clear, during the conference and in speeches preceding the event that Myanmar needs to craft a deal that will bring all ethnic nations on board. She has made all the right sounds in her approach to the peace deal. The problem however is that everything that has been said so far, has been sorely lacking in real policies. The reshaping of Myanmar’s landscape consists of several hurdles, and none of it can be surmounted through the sheer power of her image or the weight of her legacy as Aung San’s daughter.
First, the constitution does not give her (or the presidency) much room to maneuver a peace deal singlehandedly. The military as per the country’s constitution controls the national security and defense department. They also hold control of internal security and border control. Any deal reached must be approved by them. The military also as per the current constitution has the power to legally stage a coup if there are indications of unrest or even loss of confidence with the coming NLD government. Whatever policy that she crafts needs to ensure that the military does not feel marginalized or minimized.
Two, the military and a large section of the armed rebels have a direct interest in keeping the rebellion going. It gives them easy access to arms and money from foreign interests, by way of underground industries like drug smuggling, resource smuggling and human trafficking. Any peace process would require bringing these groups into the political and economic structure. Peace will be entirely dependent on how efficiently these structures can be dismantled. A policy that places greater emphasis on strengthening local governance and building institutions has been pegged as the best to succeed.
Three, One of the cornerstones of the problem between the ethnic nations and the centre has been the ‘Burmanization’ of education, culture and society in the country. It effectively meant imposing, often through force Burmese language, buddhism and buddhist culture on ethnic groups. It meant for the groups loss of language, culture and alienation from their way of life and religion. The rise of the Ma Ba Tha movement and other similar buddhist religious movements have succeeded creating a tyranny of majority that threatens the ethnic nations. Suu Kyi has so far remained silent on this issue. She will be forced to take a stance if she is looking to steer a peace process
Suu Kyi is in many ways still straddling the world of peace idol and pragmatic politician. She needs to pick a side soon.