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Is Myanmar about to rejoin the world?

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But the government will no longer be able to treat her as a "nonperson," nor does it want to ignore her any longer; it needs her to play an active role because Western governments will listen primarily to her advice as they consider lifting sanctions.

Aung San Suu Kyi needs the military, too, given its central role in modern Burmese history and its reluctance to return completely to the barracks. "It is particularly important that the military should be behind our reform process," she said just before the elections. "We hope to win the military over to understand that we have to work together."

Curiously, given her bitter experience at the hands of the previous military junta, she may be just the person to rally her former jailers.

Saintly reputation with authoritarian streak

Aung San Suu Kyi is an accidental politician, though she has honed her skills – and her meditation technique – even during long periods of house arrest in her family home, set amid spreading lawns on a small lake in central Yangon.

In 1988 she was living in England, but had traveled to Burma to visit her sick mother. When a student uprising broke out, she became a figurehead, and soon a leader, because of her ancestry: She is the daughter of Gen. Aung San, founding father of the Burmese Army and the nation, who was assassinated before Burma won independence in 1948. He is a national hero, after whom avenues are named.

Aung San Suu Kyi draws strongly on this legacy for her extraordinary popular support across the nation. And on the foundation of this positive name recognition she has built her own reputation from a powerful mixture of charm, charisma, and moral fortitude in resisting dictatorship and refusing exile, even as her British husband lay dying in Oxford in 1999.

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