SINGAPORE (June 24): On June 19, cyclists wearing shirts emblazoned with Aung San Suu Kyi’s picture biked around Mandalay. In downtown Yangon, about 1,000 people gathered at a public square, many bearing placards to form a large portrait of Aung San Suu Kyi. It was the State Counsellor’s 74th birthday.
While the public events were relatively low-key, they were nonetheless significant expressions of support at a time when the freedom fighter-turned-de facto head of state is under immense pressure. As Aung San Suu Kyi faces the next election in 2020, her international standing has taken a beating because of inaction over the Rohingya crisis. At home, the pace of economic reforms has not been quick enough and investor sentiment has faded, fast.
Even before her National League for Democracy (NLD) swept into power in November 2015, Myanmar had seen an influx of businessmen and dealmakers eager to be the first in what was ostensibly the last frontier market in fast-growing Southeast Asia. They saw opportunities in the undeveloped nation, which was rich in resources and had a young population that translated into a large and cheap workforce and a market for consumer goods. Meanwhile, local entrepreneurs who had risen through decades of isolation and in spite of harsh economic and business conditions were eager for their market to open up.