KAWHMU, Myanmar (AP) â€” Aung San Suu Kyi’s star power has fallen among fellow Myanmar politicians critical of her management style and decision-making, and among fans abroad disenchanted with the Nobel Peace laureate’s relative silence on human-rights abuses. But she’s as popular as ever amid the muddy roads and ramshackle huts of her constituency and across much of the country.
In big cities and remote rural corners, the red flag of Suu Kyi’s opposition National League for Democracy is much more common than signs of support for the ruling party. She’s expected to carry the NLD to victory in parliamentary elections Nov. 8, even though the 70-year-old is barred by the constitution from becoming president and it’s unclear who will take the job if her party wins.
“Mother Suu is our hero. We want her to be our leader,” said Myint Thein, a 54-year-old rice farmer in a village of Kawhmu township, Suu Kyi’s impoverished constituency south of Yangon.
People here shrug their shoulders when asked what Suu Kyi has done for them since they elected her to Parliament in 2012. The tiny village of Wartheinkha, where Myint Thein lives, has no running water or electricity. Most residents are uneducated farmers living in shacks built of bamboo and palm leaves. Yet the people here, like many in Myanmar, see Suu Kyi’s rise in politics as part of a national narrative.
Suu Kyi is the daughter of the country’s independence hero, Gen. Aung San, who was assassinated by rivals in 1947, when she was just 2. After many years abroad, she returned in 1988 to Myanmar, previously known as Burma, just as an uprising erupted against the military regime. She was thrust into the forefront of the pro-democracy movement, which was brutally crushed by the junta. The military kept her under house arrest for 15 of the next 23 years, which ultimately may have only enhanced her popularity.
“I love her because she is the daughter of our beloved Gen. Aung San, and she sacrificed a lot for this country,” said another villager, 32-year-old Mya Thandar. “We know that when Mother Suu is in a position of power, she will improve our lives.”
She is called “Mother Suu” by many who see her as having mothered Myanmar through dark, difficult times at the expense of her own family: a husband, now deceased, and two sons left behind in Britain. She is also known respectfully as “The Lady.”
The junta held her under house arrest for the last two national elections, in 1990 and 2010. The NLD won the first of those, but the military annulled the results and refused to hand over power.