SA democracy gets nod from Suu Kyi

2012-10-03 09:05
Nobel Peace laureate and Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi laughs while answering a question during a meeting with the Burmese community at the Los Angeles Convention Centre in Los Angeles. (Jae C Hong, AP)

Nobel Peace laureate and Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi laughs while answering a question during a meeting with the Burmese community at the Los Angeles Convention Centre in Los Angeles. (Jae C Hong, AP)

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Los Angeles - Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi wrapped up a landmark two-week US trip praising South Africa and eastern Europe's democratic transitions - but saying Myanmar must find its own path.

The opposition icon, who flies home on Wednesday, said Myanmar has to develop its own form of democracy - one that would probably not be like that of the United States, where a presidential election is only weeks away.

"It can't be like America's democracy because Burma is not America," she told several thousands supporters gathered on Tuesday in Los Angeles for her last public appearance before she left for home.

"Each country develops its own type of democracy, not something that should be imposed from above. I've always been against so-called disciplined democracy, which has been advocated by the military regime."

Suu Kyi, who spent 15 years under house arrest until her 2010 release, arrived in the US on 17 September for the visit, which included a meeting with President Barack Obama in the White House.

The 67-year-old, who won the 1991 Nobel Peace Prize - although she only accepted it in person in June of this year - also met in Washington with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who visited Myanmar in December.

'Let's be practical'

After meetings in Washington and New York, Suu Kyi travelled to Kentucky and Indiana and visited Yale and Harvard universities, before a public event in San Francisco at the weekend.

In translated excerpts of a BBC interview that aired on Saturday, Myanmar President Thein Sein said he would accept Suu Kyi as president if elected, although he added he could not alone amend rules that bar her from power, including one prohibiting high office for those with close foreign relatives.

Suu Kyi was asked in Los Angeles - where she appeared relaxed and energetic, joking and speaking mostly in Burmese during a 90-minute question-and-answer session - what she would do if she were Burma's president.

She dismissed the question by saying: "You should consider how the present president of Burma is handling the situation, rather than asking me how I would handle it if I were the president of Burma.... Let's be practical."

Asked what democratic models Myanmar could look to, she said: "We have many, many lessons to learn from various places, not just the Asian countries like South Korea, Taiwan, Mongolia and Indonesia."

She also cited "the eastern European countries, which made the transition from communist autocracy to democracy in the 1980s and 1990s, and the Latin American countries, which made the transition from military governments.

Need for compromise

"And we cannot of course forget South Africa, because although it wasn't a military regime, it was certainly an authoritarian regime."

She added: "We wish to learn from everybody who has achieved a transition to democracy, and also ... our great strong point is that, because we are so far behind everybody else, we can also learn which mistakes we should avoid."

In a nod to the current deep US political divide between Republicans led by Mitt Romney and the Democrats of Obama - battling to win re-election on 6 November - she stressed the need for compromise.

"Those of you who are familiar with American politics I'm sure understand the need for negotiated compromise," she said with a smile.

Supporters gave her a rousing reception when she arrived at the LA Convention Centre for Tuesday's event, where security was tight - a small group of Muslims protested outside against "genocide" in Myanmar.

"She is very inspirational for us, we admire her," said Corina Yang, aged 36, who is half Chinese and said it was the first time she had seen Suu Kyi.

Asked if she would make a good president, Yang said: "She's a very straightforward person, and I really like her personality. She is a very honest person, so I really wish her one day to become president in our country."

Read more on:    thein sein  |  aung san suu kyi  |  myanmar  |  us

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