By Scott Stearns
The pace of political change in Burma over the past two years is startling: from the end of Aung San Suu Kyi’s house arrest, to her election to parliament, to the lifting of most sanctions, to this week’s release of more than 500 political prisoners.
But the pro-democracy leader says Burma’s transformation is not irreversible until the army commits itself totally to change.
“Under the present constitution, the army can always take over all parts of government if they think this is necessary. So until the army comes out clearly and consistently in support of the democratic process, we cannot say that it’s irreversible. But I don’t think we need fear a reversal too much either,” she said.
The military ruled Burma for decades, and worked to suppress all opposition. Because of that, the United States and many other countries imposed economic sanctions on the government.
Elections in 2010 brought in new political leaders, who, although they are civilians, have close ties to the army. Still, the new government has gradually made political and economic reforms, prompting Washington to ease the sanctions.
In an interview at VOA’s Washington headquarters Tuesday, Aung San Suu Kyi said she supports the lifting of U.S. trade sanctions on Burma because it is time, she said, for the Burmese people to stand on their own.
“There have been many claims that sanctions have hurt Burma economically, but I did not agree with that point of view. If you look at reports by the IMF [International Monetary Fund], for example, they make quite clear that the economic impact on Burma has not been that great. But I think the political impact has been very great, and that has helped us in our struggle for democracy,” she said.
As leader of the opposition National League for Democracy, Aung San Suu Kyi spent nearly two decades in detention. During those years, she said, she believed she was on the path she chose and was perfectly prepared to keep to that path.
And what would she say to people in other countries under similar situations who look to her for inspiration?
“First of all, I would say don’t give up hope. At the same time I would say there is no hope without endeavor. You’ve got to work. You’ve got to make an effort. It is not enough to sit and hope. You have to work in order to realize your hopes,” she said.
On her first visit to the United States in more than 20 years, Aung San Suu Kyi is to receive the Congressional Gold Medal. She was the guest of honor at a dinner hosted by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.