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Burmese Days

NEW DELHI – US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s recent visit to Myanmar (Burma), noted largely for a memorable photo opportunity with a wan but smiling Aung San Suu Kyi, signaled a significant change in the geopolitics surrounding a land that has faced decades of isolation, sanctions, and widespread condemnation for its human-rights violations.

Twenty-one years ago, after Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) swept a general election, the results were annulled, the party’s leaders and workers were incarcerated or exiled, and two decades of ruthless – and remarkably opaque – military rule followed. This year has witnessed political opening, the release of several prominent political prisoners, and evidence of self-assertion by the nominally civilian government (headed by a former general, Thien Sein). Suu Kyi’s announcement of her intention to contest a by-election to the new parliament offers a glimmer of hope that democrats could use the fledgling political process to create something resembling genuine representative government.