Leaders set the democratic agenda in Myanmar

Media playback is not supported on this device Did Aung San Suu Kyi crush hope?

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Aung San Suu Kyi, the Nobel Peace Prize-winning opposition leader who now holds the post of Myanmar’s de facto leader, may have silenced the most powerful voice in the country.

“Does she know she is treating me like this?” Ms Suu Kyi said, to a halting military choir. They responded in a mixture of admiration and disdain. She smiled as they left.

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In those past few days of interviews with BBC journalists, Ms Suu Kyi seems to have put her military supporters at ease.

She has been given safe passage to the military’s rural heartland of Rakhine.

Away from the possibility of reprisals, she has been given the rare privilege of venturing into a government town.

“People are hungry, it’s the monsoon season,” she said, explaining the visit to Kelaw by her convoy of armoured personnel carriers.

So far, Ms Suu Kyi has gained an unexpectedly unscripted encounter with a real parliamentarian, who, despite her army connections, is thinking of re-entering politics.

He talked about the “outsideers” – international forces – interfering in the country’s affairs.

“Tell it to the market vendors in Naypyidaw that they should treat us equally,” he said.

That was the sound of desperation.

The military’s traditional reluctance to discuss politics has suddenly evaporated.

On Monday, the authoritarian government announced a transfer of power to a democratically elected executive, albeit a one-year transitional phase under a plan endorsed by the military.

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It is a breathtaking development.

The junta had already banned the country’s former information minister from politics and arrested most journalists.

Yet a signed declaration, including the most senior members of Ms Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD), congratulated the parliament on “opening its doors to people.”

The transition is only a step in the long road to democracy. It remains unclear whether the NLD will be part of the process.

Last month, the NLD leadership was sued for “forgery” because a one-page advertisement they published in Thailand, a copy of which has been widely reproduced online, appears to be the same text as another.

It lists laws the NLD says it wants repealed, some of which were introduced under a military government and in one case are still in force.

To boost its standing with the international community, the party may want to push for transitional justice for the hundreds of political prisoners, including Ms Suu Kyi’s late husband, Michael Aris.

In a first public comment on the matter on Sunday, the former military government spokesman said such cases were already being considered.

But if it does sue again, it may not be able to get the kind of protection it wants.

In parliament on Monday, MP U Shwe Mann, a former senior military leader, acknowledged that, for several years, officers did not speak to him. But he was still questioned about the case.

Even a three-time junta minister had to show his identity before he could speak.

The change in behaviour of the army may help explain why the junta suddenly welcomed the emergence of a parliamentary opposition and allowed Suu Kyi to become an MP – two steps in a continuing natural process of political development.

Now, they have removed the key barrier to progress, but there are still many issues to be negotiated.

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It will be a long road ahead for Myanmar and its ongoing “surge” of up to 30,000 Rohingya refugees from northern Rakhine state into Bangladesh.

Sources in Rakhine told the BBC that the ethnic violence, which has displaced almost a million people, has restarted.

The Rohingya, stateless and even officially refugees since 1991, have been living in refugee camps in Bangladesh, even though they have been in Myanmar’s territory for generations.

The economic pressure on that region from Thailand, which has enforced a blockade against the population in Bangladesh, and India, whose territory also has a Rohingya minority, is also mounting.

The Myanmar military’s quiet revolution may be the trigger for the long overdue decision to open Myanmar for democracy.

In a five-year time span, it has gone from preventing democracy to now letting it grow.

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