Suu Kyi's political skills tested in pre-election showdown

Suu Kyi's political skills tested in pre-election showdown
Aung San Suu Kyi attends a six party meeting at the president's office in Naypyidaw on April 10, 2015.

NAYPYITAW - With an historic general election just seven months away, Myanmar opposition leader and Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi is locked in a high-stakes showdown with a military-backed government she says isn't interested in reform.

Some of her supporters within Myanmar's pro-democracy movement have begun to question whether the country's most popular politician has the political ability to prevail.

They say she has already been outmanoeuvred.

"At a grassroots level she is hugely popular. But people worry about her political manoeuvring and strategy," said Aung Zaw, a former political exile and 1980s student activist who now edits Myanmar's leading independent news agency.

Aung Zaw and others, including some current student activists, say Suu Kyi made a critical mistake when she stood for parliament three years ago in a by-election, becoming a lawmaker in a system that remains far from fully democratic.

"She lent a whole undeserved legitimacy to the regime," Aung Zaw said.

Critics say Suu Kyi has received little in return for that move, which contributed to the United States and the European Union's suspending sanctions and burnished President Thein Sein's reformist image as "Myanmar's Gorbachev".

"She has been outsmarted to some extent," said Maung Moccy, a student activist, former political prisoner and a leader in the All Burma Federation of Student Unions.

"... She hasn't got back in return anything that is worth what she gave," he added.

Others, though, express support.

Arakan National Party leader Aye Maung, who represents the nation's ethnic groups at reform talks between Myanmar's most powerful politicians, says Suu Kyi was pushing hard for the military-drafted constitution to be changed so that she could become eligible for the presidency after the election.

The charter effectively bars her from the top office.

"I think she's playing her game very smartly," he said, pointing to a round of talks due to take place on the constitution on Friday.

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