"Gen. Aung San had two heirs: his daughter and the Burmese military," says a European diplomat who asked not to be identified by name. "Aung San Suu Kyi wants to unite them and embody their union; she does not present herself as an enemy of the Army as an institution, just of the way they have behaved."
Indeed, the almost saintly reputation she enjoys masks an occasionally authoritarian streak, say some who know her. "When important decisions have to be made quickly, she must act like a captain on the battlefield," says Myo Nan Naung Thein, a sometime aide to the NLD leader. "But discussion and debate are impossible – almost nobody else [in the party leadership] ever says no to her."
The NLD certainly has organizing power, but there is no doubt that the party owes its popularity almost entirely to its leader. It has no political platform beyond vague calls for national reconciliation and the rule of law, and little leadership depth. Though Aung San Suu Kyi is gathering a younger generation of advisers, veterans still fill key party positions.
"I met the 'uncles' recently," Professor Steinberg recalls of a discussion with the NLD top brass. "I was probably the youngest man in the room, and I'm 83."
"If the NLD was a soccer team, it would be one without a midfield and without fullbacks," says Khin Zaw Win, a former political prisoner who now works as a community activist. "They just have one lone striker."
That suggests that even should the NLD score the kind of victory at general elections due in 2015 that it won on April 1, some sort of ruling coalition with the military and the USDP might be the only viable outcome.
"All we've done in the opposition is sit in prison," laments Mr. Myo Nan Naung Thein. "We've read books, but we have been far away from power. If power was handed instantly to the NLD it would be a disaster."