Interview with Burma’s democracy activist Aung San Suu Kyi

By Lally Weymouth, Published: January 20

Rangoon, Burma

Aung San Suu Kyi sat in the living room of the home where she lived under house arrest for so many years and talked about the future. She is now a free citizen, meeting with high-level foreign delegations; she’s a political star in her country and possibly a future president. In an interview with Washington Post senior associate editor Lally Weymouth on Wednesday — the same day Suu Kyi registered as a candidate for Burma’s parliamentary elections — she talked about her country’s president, U.S. economic sanctions and her political plans. Excerpts:

In the United States, people are asking if President Thein Sein’sreform process is real. Do you think the reforms are real? And how did your meeting with the president go?

My meeting with the president went well, and I believe he sincerely wants reform. But he is not the only one in government. Our present constitution gives the military far too much power. Although the president is the head of state, he is not necessarily the highest power in the land. The commander in chief can take over all powers of government at any time he feels it to be necessary. That must be very difficult if you are in the position in which our president is. I don’t know how much support he has within the army. He himself is an army man, so I assume there must be considerable support for him in military circles. But that is just an assumption.

I think the president is genuine about reform. I think there are those who support him in the government. Whether all people support him, I can’t answer.


Do you worry that there could be a reversal of this reform process?

I don’t worry overmuch, but I am aware that there is a possibility of reversal. I think we have to work very hard to diminish this possibility. I do appreciate what the United States is doing to encourage this process. I think we here inside Burma have to do the major part of the work.


Should the United States lift sanctions and engage?

Engage and lift sanctions when they think the time is right. The U.S. has laid out very clearly what the conditions are for the removal of sanctions. If this government wants sanctions to be removed, they will have to try and meet those conditions.


One condition was the prisoner releases, and the president did release quite a few recently.

Yes, but not all of them yet. All the major political prisoners have been released.


Do you feel you could you play a role in bringing about peace and reconciliation between the ethnic groups and the government?

I could play a role only if both sides are willing to have me play a role. I can’t just go in because one side has asked me to take part. The ethnics have indicated they want me to be part of it.


I asked the president if he would consider giving you a cabinet post. He said it was up to parliament.

Quite right. Even if we win all the seats we are contesting, that will be only 48 out of 600 seats. The reason we want to get into parliament is not because we expect to do all our work in parliament. We want to extend our activities into the parliament. read all