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Suu Kyi visit puts pragmatism in spotlight

Kyodo

Known worldwide as a prodemocracy icon, Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi showed herself to also be a capable and pragmatic politician during her weeklong visit to Japan as she sought backing for her country’s political and economic development.

In her first visit to Japan in 27 years, Suu Kyi filled her tight schedule with meetings with prominent people to seek the “right assistance” to genuinely benefit the people of Myanmar, including poor rural farmers and young people in need of jobs.

“It is not enough to say any aid is welcomed. It is not enough to think that the more you get the better,” Suu Kyi told a news conference, apparently referring to the senior officials of the previous military government who drew criticism for fattening their pockets with foreign aid.

“We need to make sure that the help given to my country is actually what is needed by the people,” Suu Kyi said. “For this I want the government of Japan to consult not just the executives, that is to say not just the government but legislature and me who represent the opposition as well.”

Some analysts said Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy, which has led the country’s democratic reform, could take power in parliamentary elections scheduled for 2015. This means she could become president.

In her meeting with Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida, which ran more than an hour and 30 minutes, Suu Kyi laid out concrete examples of how she wants Japan to assist Myanmar, according to a Foreign Ministry official.

She requested help so farmers can develop products on par with those of surrounding nations, such as Thailand and Vietnam.

In response to her requests, Kishida said the government will study Myanmar’s needs as “important homework,” according to the official who briefed reporters.

Another government official said Suu Kyi has “turned into a politician.”

In a lecture at the University of Tokyo, she demonstrated flexibility in her drive to promote democracy, showing a willingness to forge a better relationship with the military establishment to win its cooperation in reforming the controversial Constitution.

Noting that amending the Constitution needs the approval of more than 75 percent of the 664-member national Parliament, which is dominated by President Thein Sein’s Union Solidarity and Development Party and the military, Suu Kyi said, “What I want to do is to change the Constitution in agreement with the military.”

The Constitution automatically grants 25 percent of the seats in Parliament to the armed forces. It also disqualifies her from assuming the presidency due to her having children with foreign citizenship with a foreign husband.

Suu Kyi disappointed some international observers by keeping a low profile during ethnic and religious rioting in Myanmar’s Arakan State last year and during the military’s latest offensive against the Kachin Independence Army in January.

Human Rights Watch included a rare criticism of her in its report in January, stating that “Suu Kyi has disappointed an otherwise admiring global audience by failing to stand up for a minority against whom many Burmese harbor deep prejudice.”

Touching on the ongoing ethnic and religious tensions in Myanmar, Suu Kyi called this week for the establishment of the rule of law to solve the conflicts.

She declined to say whether the Rohingya Muslims, one of the most persecuted minorities in the world according to the United Nations, are Myanmar citizens. Muslims account for a mere 4 percent of the nation’s population, while Buddhists make up 90 percent.

“We must learn to accommodate those with different views,” she said.