RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

It is the rare opposition leader who is welcomed abroad with the same pomp and ceremony as a head of state. Aung San Suu Kyi is that sort of opposition leader.

The one time political prisoner in Myanmar was accorded the star treatment on her recent tour of Europe. Now Suu Kyi is back home, and Myanmar's parliament starts a new session tomorrow.

As NPR's Anthony Kuhn reports, she's now under pressure to shift from the lofty rhetoric of her European trip, and instead push for practical benefits for the Burmese people who support her.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

ANTHONY KUHN, BYLINE: Last week, the Iuventus Ensemble performed to welcome Suu Kyi to London's Westminster Hall. It was the culmination of three weeks of lavish receptions by European governments and eloquent pleas from Suu Kyi for support for Myanmar's ongoing reforms.

AUNG SAN SUU KYI: This is the most important time for Burma. This is the moment of our greatest need. And so I would ask that our friends both here in Britain and beyond, participate in and support Burma's efforts towards the establishment of a truly democratic and just society.

KUHN: Suu Kyi herself said that beyond President Thein Sein, it's hard to determine how much support the current reforms in Burma enjoy, especially within the country's military. It's an assessment shared by outside observers.

VIKRAM NEHRU: The entire reform program in Myanmar now hangs by a very slender thread.

KUHN: Vikram Nehru, a Southeast Asia expert at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington, says that Suu Kyi must quickly use her authority to shore up support key reform policies.

NEHRU: Otherwise, there's a great danger that the enemies of reform, those that are currently are benefiting from the current system, will exert a pushback. And that might be to the detriment of the long-term development of the country.

KUHN: Pressure is increasing for Suu Kyi to make good on her inspiring rhetoric about human rights. What better example than the Rohingya crisis in western Rakhine state, next to Bangladesh? Mob violence among Buddhists and Muslims there has claimed at least 80 lives and created as many as 90,000 refugees. Many Rohingya migrated from what is now Bangladesh generations ago. But Myanmar's government does not recognize them as citizens. When asked in Oslo whether Rohingyas are citizens of Myanmar or not, Suu Kyi replied...

KYI: I do not know, because when you talk about the Rohingya, we are not quite sure whom you are talking about. There's some who say those people who claim to be Rohingyas are not the ones who are actually native to Burma, but have just come over recently from Bangladesh.

KUHN: She says that establishing the rule of law is the key to resolving the issue, but she does not suggest what the law should say. Maung Zarni, a visiting fellow at the London School of Economics and Political Science, says Suu Kyi has limited political room to maneuver on this issue.

MAUNG ZARNI: She finds herself in a very difficult position, because her constituency is known to be extremely anti-Rohingya.

KUHN: He points out that on the subject of the Rohingya, the views of many Burmese pro-democracy activists are just as discriminatory and intolerant as those of the former junta they once fought. He admits that he, too, opposes recognizing the Rohingya as one of the country's ethnic minorities.

ZARNI: We must not be ashamed to admit that we have illiberal tendencies and elements within our culture and our practices, and they need to be rectified in accordance with the principles that we espouse, or we are fighting for. You can't have it both ways. You know, are you for human rights, or are you against human rights?

KUHN: Fresh from her election to Parliament on April 1st, and at the end of a triumphant tour of Europe, Aung Sang Suu Kyi now finds herself at an unprecedented level of popularity at home and abroad. Whether or not she can maintain it and use it to boost the country's reforms may soon become apparent as she begins work in Myanmar's parliament, which is dominated by the ruling party and the military. Anthony Kuhn, NPR News, Jakarta.

Copyright © 2012 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.