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Aung San Suu Kyi is Free. Now What?




Myanmar's opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi waves to supporters after her release from house arrest in Yangon November 13, 2010. (STR/AFP/Getty Images)

Myanmar's opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi waves to supporters after her release from house arrest in Yangon November 13, 2010. (STR/AFP/Getty Images)

She is Asia's most famous prisoner of conscience.

And, after spending most of this decade and much of the 1990s locked up, Aung San Suu Kyi has been released from house arrest.

Her long hoped for freedom comes just days after Burma, also known as Myanmar, staged its first election in 20 years. Suu Kyi's party won the previous poll in 1990, but she was in detention at the time and the military junta refused to relinquish power and recognize the result.

This time around, the poll -- held via a dubious new constitution that guarantees power for the generals and their cronies -- was denounced by much of the outside world as flawed and undemocratic.

So where to from here?

There is little doubt that Suu Kyi remains a potent symbol of defiance and change.

Just prior to her release, Priscilla Clapp (a former chief of the US mission in Rangoon and an Asia Society Burma Task Force member) predicted that the pro-democracy leader would play a statesman-like role in the future.

The best hope for those who want a freer Burma is that some form of diplomatic engagement will produce results that years of sanctions did not. Will generational change within the ranks of the army's elite and a new international climate help?

Could it be that, although unfair and undemocratic, the poll plus Suu Kyi's new freedom are faint signs of hope?

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