Away from the glare of Asia’s Covid crisis, there is a story unfolding in Myanmar – democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi seems to have beaten the incumbency blues.

She seems all set to lead her National League for Democracy (NLD) party back to power in the Nov 8 elections after it avoided a major confrontation with the country’s all-powerful military Tatmadaw.

Suu Kyi, realising that discretion was the better part of valour, abandoned NLD efforts to change the constitution that bars her from contesting for President, gives the army 25% seats in parliament and control over three crucial security-related ministries – Home, Defence and Border Affairs.

An amendment to the Constitution can only get passed if it garners 75% vote – so if the army opposes NLD-sponsored amendments and given gets one Burmese politician determined to survive.”

She is indeed living up to that.

She has pleased the army by refusing to open up to the investigation of Rakhine province atrocities on Muslim Rohingyas by global bodies and has challenged an ICJ trial of army officers held responsible for the same.

“This army is one created by my father Marshal Aung Sang for Burma’s liberation,” she said two years ago, betraying no bitterness for her years in prison and house arrest and denial of power by her ‘father’s army’.

She knows she cannot get any constitutional change through unless she dents the monolithic military leadership and creates her own support bloc, so that the 25% military MP bloc can be split, because at the moment, all the military has to do is to hold its line and get 2 or 3% civilian MPs to vote against an amendment, which then falls through.

Three years ago, she had told me on the sidelines of a democracy convention that she was no longer “an icon sitting on the wall but a flesh-and-blood Burmese politician determined to survive and exercise power”.

The pandemic has certainly served Aung San Suu Kyi and her NLD very well as it has reinforced the party’s narrative that she is “the savior” of the country.

“Covid has changed the landscape of the election,” said Nyantha Maw Lin, an independent consultant based in Yangon.

“Suu Kyi’s use of Facebook is a massive winner. It will seal the deal as there’s much less room for anything to happen on the campaign trail, with potential social distancing requirements and other constraints because of Covid,” Maw Lin said.

But though sure of victory, Suu Kyi is far less sure of making any real progress on the process of ethnic reconciliation she has initiated under the Panglong initiative that rekindles her father’s failed effort to place independent Burma on a firm and equitable political footing .

Democratic transition will also be uncertain with failure to tone down censorship laws.

Subir Bhaumik

Subir Bhaumik is a Kolkata-based senior journalist. He can be reached at: