Businesswoman aims to change Myanmar politics from the inside

Thet Thet Khine may have a natural flair for politics, but she worked long and hard for her new role.
PHOTO: Nikkei Asian Review

YANGON - Clad in a silk longyi sarong as she sits on an opulent sofa in her central Yangon mansion, Thet Thet Khine might seem like one of the most improbable new faces of the National League for Democracy - a party better known for grass-roots activism and former political prisoners. Yet, this affluent businesswoman, medical doctor, leading member of Myanmar's key business group and diligent part-time postgraduate student is among a handful of women who ran for parliamentary seats in the Nov. 8 election.

Of 6,074 hopefuls who competed in the historic poll, only 13 per cent were women. Thet Thet Khine is among the even smaller handful who won seats.

She knows her life is about to change radically. For one thing, the 48-year-old will spend most of her time in Naypyitaw, the capital, to sit in parliament - while her teenage daughter and husband stay in Yangon. "It's a family-run concern but now the wife will go into politics while the husband takes care of the business."

Entering parliament is a dream come true for this high achiever. "I wanted to be a politician from a young age ... but I ended up studying medicine and then going into business. Yet, I kept thinking about the kind of system ... that would enable people to grow, the country to develop. When the system is wrong, everybody suffers. ... I wanted to contribute toward building the right system here."

In her typical can-do style, she plunged in at the deep end, securing a position with the NLD to run as a lower house candidate in the Yangon township of Dagon. She faced strong competition from incumbent politicians, as well as doubts among some business colleagues over her decision to join the NLD.

The ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party has been the natural partner for big business in Myanmar. But Thet Thet Khine was convinced that the NLD could make more of a difference to society, with its pledges to pursue political as well as economic change.

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