June 24, 2018
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A Maine perspective on Aung San Suu Kyi

Khin Maung Win | AP
Khin Maung Win | AP
Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi arrives to attend a press conference at the headquarters of her National League for Democracy party in Yangon, Wednesday, June 6, 2012. A state-run newspaper called Suu Kyi and President Thein Sein "the hope of Myanmar" — rare praise for the opposition leader that was tempered with worry that possible tensions between the two reform-minded politicians could derail changes in the long-oppressed country.

You might not care about Myanmar. It’s far from Maine and may seem untied to the state’s people and economy.

But the story there — of fighting for a freely elected government — has a universal nature. Political dissident Aung San Suu Kyi has pushed for democracy despite being detained in some form for the last two decades.

The head of the National League for Democracy, she won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991, prompting the committee chairman to call her “an outstanding example of the power of the powerless.”

She was released from house arrest in 2010 after being detained by Myanmar’s ruling generals for 15 years. And in April she and other NLD candidates won seats in parliament in a landslide victory.

It’s an encouraging, albeit continuing, story of perseverance, made more complicated by recent ethnic and religious violence in western Myanmar. The struggle came closer to Maine recently when U.S. Sen. Susan Collins’ met with Suu Kyi when both traveled to Thailand for the World Economic Forum. It was Suu Kyi’s first trip outside Myanmar, formerly Burma, in 24 years.

On that trip, Suu Kyi reminded Mainers and people around the world about what they often take for granted: The ability to freely elect and criticize their government — particularly apt during this election time.

Suu Kyi spoke her mind, cautioning against investors being recklessly optimistic. There was speculation her comments upset President Thein Sein, though an aide said it was simple disagreement.

When she returned to the U.S., Collins offered a view of a brave, intelligent woman who’s gotten the world watching Myanmar. Connecting Suu Kyi and Maine increases the chance for future collaboration. We hope one day to meet her here.


“[Suu Kyi] warned against being overly optimistic and that the gains that had been made, while impressive were still, in her words, reversible and that it remained to be seen whether or not they could be sustained .

“We talked about the fact that the administration has eased some of the sanctions, which will allow for foreign investment in Burma. She supported the easing of sanctions, but she told me she does not support lifting all the sanctions completely because she believes this needs to be dependent … on additional steps toward a fuller democracy.

“For 15 years she could not leave her house, and she has talked about that. She just listened to her radio six hours a day. So now here she is, going to a prestigious international forum and very freely speaking her mind without fear and going to visit refugee camps on the Thai border with Burma.

“She’s extremely bright, very thoughtful and very courageous. I worry about her physical health. When you meet her, she seems very frail, and I worry about whether she has the physical strength to match her extraordinarily strong intellect.”

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