An Interview With Aung San Suu Kyi
Burma’s Nobel laureate muses on the sweeping reforms in her country and whether she will be its president.
What is the role of the former Senior General Than Shwe? You were released from house arrest before this president was inaugurated.
Yes, but I think the elections were over so there was obviously going to be a USDP government. We didn’t yet know who was going to be the head of state.
Do you think that Senior General Than Shwe outlined the reform process in his Seven Step program of 2004?
Yes, the Seven Point roadmap was drawn up a long time ago under General Than Shwe.
Did they decide to conduct these reforms because of Than Shwe’s program?
No, I think it is because a new government came into power and because President Thein Sein was at the head of this government. He saw the need for change and reform and he sought to do his best. I think there are other reformers in the government but I don’t think those reformers could have pushed through this program unless he was standing firmly behind them.
Some allege that the regime wants to reform in order to stay in power, whereas you want reforms to create a democratic country, which probably would mean regime change.
That’s possible. It could be true that some reformers simply want to stay on. But there could be among the reformers those who understand that it is time for genuine change. They themselves cannot stay on in government forever. Of course, we don’t take it for granted that everything is going to happen the way we would like it to happen. I think we have got to try our best to make sure that things go along the path that will take us to genuine democratization instead of just a strengthening of the present regime.
Do you think Thein Sein is sort of a Gorbachev?
No, because Gorbachev came into power gradually through the ranks and he had his grip on power quite firmly before he started going toward reform. Thein Sein is in a rather different situation. I think very few people expected him to become head of state. He was not the highest-ranking member in the military government under General Shwe.
You referred to the fact that the army could overthrow this president. What is his relationship with the army?
He is respected in the army, that we know. He is one of the few members of the previous regime who is considered by all to be clean. Not only he, but his family as well and that is unusual.
This is the house you lived in when you were under house arrest? You couldn’t go anywhere?
No. Not unless they wanted me to go somewhere.
How many years did that go on for?
All together 15 years.
How did you keep going?
I had enough to do to keep this house from toppling down. I could listen to the radio and I had access to books from time to time. Not all the time.
Your family was in England?
Yes, in some ways that was good because I didn’t have to worry about them. At least I knew that they were safe. The first six years I was kept totally alone. The last six years I had two people staying in the house. The first six years really trained me very well.
Lally Weymouth is a senior associate editor of the Washington Post.