Burmese opposition leader warns military is yet to be reckoned with

Burmese opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi has urged the international community to exercise “healthy scepticism” toward her country’s reform process as it sheds a half-century of military rule.

Burmese opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi has urged the international community to exercise “healthy scepticism” toward her country’s reform process as it sheds a half-century of military rule.

It is the first time the Nobel prize winner has uttered the sentiment on foreign soil in a speech that was broadcast live across the world.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

After 24 years of isolation in Burma, Suu Kyi received a standing ovation as she took the podium at the World Economic Forum.

The forum’s founder, Klaus Schwab, introduced her as “one of the most extraordinary personalities this century”.

Since elections last year, Burma’s president Thein Sein has surprised much of the world by engineering sweeping reforms, but Suu Kyi noted that the country is still in the very early phases of building a democracy.

“These days I am coming across what I call reckless optimism,” she said, drawing applause from the room packed with several hundred people and a wall of television cameras. “A little bit of healthy scepticism, I think, is in order.”

Burma’s reforms have allowed countries to ease economic sanctions they imposed during the military’s regime, but some human rights groups have warned that while those moves are good for the country’s development they will weaken incentives to continue democratic reforms.

Suu Kyi said later at a news conference that she did not doubt Thein Sein’s desire to make reforms, but that he was not the country’s sole power.

“I do believe in the sincerity of the president when he speaks of his commitment to reform,” she said.

“But I also recognise that he’s not the only person in government. And, as I keep repeating, there’s the military to be reckoned with.”

Anticipating huge aid and investment to develop Burma’s stunted infrastructure, she said she hoped foreign firms would invest cautiously and transparently, so the influx of money can benefit the impoverished masses.

“We do not want more investment to mean more possibilities for corruption,” she said. “Our country must benefit.”

She also listed the country’s most essential needs as secondary education to foster political reforms and jobs to end high youth unemployment that she called “a time bomb”. She said Burma still lacks rule of law and an independent judiciary.

“We need basic education in Burma,” she said, “the kind of education that will enable our people to earn a decent living for themselves.”