Aung San Suu Kyi: from hero's daughter to Myanmar leadership

Members of Myanmar's older generation remember the death of Aung San the way Americans over a certain age can recall where they were when US President John F Kennedy was shot.

Aung San was the founder of the Myanmar Army, and after World War II became a leader of the struggle for independence from Britain, before being assassinated in July 1947.

Independence came six months later, when his daughter, Aung San Suu Kyi, was only 2 years old. Although her father was dead, he became the defining personality of her life.

"She never for one moment forgot that she was the daughter of Burma's national hero, Aung San," wrote Michael Aris, her scholar husband, in the foreword to Suu Kyi's book Freedom From Fear, in 1991.

The couple married in 1972 and had two children, Alexander and Kim, who saw little of their mother after 1988, as she was placed under house arrest in Myanmar. Aris died in 1999 in Britain.

Suu Kyi, who spent most of her youth abroad studying in India and later at Oxford, returned to Yangon in 1988 as mass pro-democracy demonstrations were rocking the city.

She emerged from political obscurity to instant celebrity, bolstered by the Aung San name and a certain similarity to her father in her looks and straightforward speaking style.

But on July 20, 1989, she was placed under house detention, days after delivering a speech in which she openly criticized General Ne Win, who ruled Myanmar from 1962 to 1988.

She was to spend 15 of the next 21 years under house arrest.

Suu Kyi was under detention during the May 1990 general election, which was won by a landslide by her National League for Democracy (NLD) party, but the junta blocked it from assuming power.

Over the next two decades, she became the darling of Western democracies, winning the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991.

She was finally freed on November 13, 2010, days after fresh elections brought the prospect of political reform in Myanmar, led by new President Thein Sein.

He allowed Suu Kyi to re-enter mainstream politics and run in by-elections, when she won a seat in Kawhmu, south of Yangon, and became the opposition leader in parliament.

Her path to greater political power was unclear, however, as she was blocked from being president by Myanmar's military-drafted constitution, which states that no one who has children with foreign citizenship can be president.

After the NLD's landslide victory in the November elections, she used her unchallenged power within the party to install one of her closest advisors as president, and herself as state counsellor - a new post created specially for her.

The Nobel Peace laureate also holds the post of foreign minister and another position in the President's Office, ensuring that she can stay across most of the government's work.

One of her first major acts in power was to ensure the release of hundreds of political prisoners imprisoned by Myanmar's former military rulers.

Last update: Sun, 17/04/2016 - 13:34
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