Bangkok: Twelve months after being swept into office on a wave of optimism, Myanmar’s de-facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi has acknowledged disappointment over the state of her country, saying she is prepared to step down if people end up dissatisfied with her leadership.
“When I joined politics, I said ‘I promise one thing; that I will do my best.’ That’s all. I can’t do better than that,” Ms Suu Kyi said in a televised speech.
“So if you think I am not good enough for our country and our people, if someone or some organisation can do better than us, we are ready to step down.”
Ms Suu Kyi, once celebrated as a heroine of democracy, appealed for more time amid a myriad problems facing the country, including fighting with ethnic armed groups in border areas, atrocities on long persecuted Rohingya Muslims, a rise in hate speech and sluggish progress on reforming an economy shackled by 50 years of military rule.
“We know that we weren’t able to make as much progress as people had wanted???one year is not a long period,” she said.
Analysts say Ms Suu Kyi, who formally carries the title State Counsellor, is not facing any threat to her leadership while her opponents, comprising the military and its allies remains deeply unpopular.
Known as “The Lady” who suffered years of torment and injustice for standing up to the military, Ms Suu Kyi still draws widespread personal admiration across the country, one of Asia’s poorest.
But dissenting voices are rising as she cuts an aloof figure in office while failing to delegate authority, articulate her government’s policies and publicly confront the powerful military which maintains control of key security ministries.
“Many voters feel frustrated,” Myo Zaw Aung, an MP in Ms Suu Kyi’s ruling National League for Democracy told Reuters, citing pervasive low-level corruption as one source of disaffection among a population who also face ramshackle public services.
“People had sky-high expectations for the NLD but actually the change can’t be that dramatic – they are not seeing an obvious change at the grassroots level,” he said.
In her 25-minute speech, Ms Suu Kyi reiterated that her government will refuse to accept a United Nations fact-finding mission to investigate atrocities on Rohingya in western Rakhine state but said her number one priority is to end ethnic conflicts involving about 20 rebel groups.
“We have a lot of hope???but hope is just hope – nothing for sure yet. We have to keep trying,” she said.
Separately, Ms Suu Kyi’s government announced that five more groups had agreed to attempts to reach a landmark peace deal.
But critics say Ms Suu Kyi’s failure to speak up for the Rohingya and denials that widespread abuses have taken place in Rakhine have severely damaged her reputation as a human rights defender.
UN investigators have accused Myanmar security forces of systemic abuses in Rakhine which the UN says could amount to crimes against humanity and ethnic cleansing.
Ms Suu Kyi was criticised by her fellow Nobel peace laureates in December for failing to protect the Rohingya.
Derek Mitchell, the US’s ambassador in Myanmar from 2012 until last year, said it was reasonable to question whether Ms Suu Kyi and the NLD have taken full advantage of the momentum of their victory during their first year in office, regardless of structural obstacles.
But he said the biggest question mark hangs over the role of the military which under the constitution does not allow for civilian control.
“Economic underdevelopment, civil war and degradation of virtually every institution save one – the military – over the past 50 years cannot be wiped away by a single election,” Mr Mitchell told the Nikkei Report.
“Nor can the legacies of social division, mistrust and corruption created in their wake.”
More than 70,000 Rohingya have arrived in Bangladesh refugee camps after fleeing Rakhine since October when Myanmar security forces launched a brutal crackdown after attacks on several police border posts.
Myanmar’s military has declared that more than one million Rohingya living in the Buddhist majority country are illegal immigrants despite that they have lived there for generations.