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Saturday, Nov. 20, 2010


Glimmer of hope for Myanmar

Democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi has been released from house arrest. That does not mean she is free. Rather, it means that the military junta that rules Myanmar is stepping up efforts to rehabilitate its international image without really changing its repressive habits. That charade must be exposed and Myanmar pressed to undertake real democratic reform if it is to return to the community of nations.

The release of Ms. Suu Kyi, the Nobel peace prize laureate held in prison or under house arrest for 15 of the past 20 years, was expected after the junta held parliamentary elections for the first time in 20 years. Silencing her, along with other prominent democracy activists, ensured a predictable result — although to take no chances, the government also fixed the vote. Not surprisingly, government parties won some 80 percent of the seats up for election.

In comments after her release, Ms. Suu Kyi said that she is prepared to work with the people who imprisoned her. This is a departure from her past and the election strategy of her party, the National League of Democracy, which boycotted the vote. Ms. Suu Kyi added that her willingness to work with the government depends on its readiness to give the opposition a voice.

That should not be too big a bone for the junta to swallow. After all, it holds virtually every seat in the Parliament. Compromise should be possible without fatally weakening the government's position. While that may sound like the counsel of the defeated, Ms. Suu Kyi, like-minded activists and supporters of democracy in Myanmar must aim to change the system over time. That means finding cracks in the military's hold on power and exploiting them.

Real change only comes from within. It is only when democracy supporters find allies within the power structure that external support can make a difference. Nevertheless, friends of Myanmar must push the junta to make room for an opposition. That is the best — if not the only — way to ensure genuine change in that long-suffering state.

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