March 25, 2012 8:53 pm

Suu Kyi cancels appearances after falling ill

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Myanmar’s de facto opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi has cancelled appearances before her April 1 by-election after falling ill for a second time in the campaign, a development that highlights the fragility of the country’s democratic reform process.

Ms Suu Kyi, 66, vomited during a gruelling weekend trip to the Mergui region, in Myanmar’s far south. She was put on an intravenous drip and advised by her doctor to cease travel before next Sunday’s poll.

The advice means cancelling what would have been the most symbolic rally of her eight-week campaign, to Magway in central Myanmar, the birthplace of her late father, independence hero Aung San.

Ms Suu Kyi’s health remains a concern to western governments as well as to her vast support base. There are no clear successors to The National League for Democracy leader who spent much of the last 22 years under house arrest, and whose father is still widely revered.

“Basically it’s unthinkable that anything would happen to Daw Suu,” said one Yangon-based diplomat, using her honorific title. “It could stop this whole show in its tracks”.

Ms Suu Kyi’s doctor, Tin Myi Win, said exhaustion and hot weather had caused her illness. The Nobel peace laureate is also known to suffer motion sickness, probably brought on by the arduous trip to outlying islands. In Mandalay earlier this month, Ms Suu Kyi vomited and fainted during a campaign appearance before more than 100,000 supporters.

On Sunday, as she did earlier in Mandalay, she insisted on making a brief appearance, to apologise to supporters and to appeal for their votes.

Since launching her campaign in late January, Ms Suu Kyi has pursued a punishing travel schedule to appear in nearly all 48 constituencies up for grabs in Sunday’s polls. She is running in Kawhmu, 30km south of Yangon, for the NLD, which is contesting 47 seats.

At a rally last Wednesday in Dagon Port, an hour’s drive from Yangon, Ms Suu Kyi appeared tired but typically determined, telling a cheering crowd of 20,000 that “people should control the government, not the other way around”.

The NLD boycotted the 2010 national election which brought Thein Sein, the president, to power. Ms Suu Kyi’s decision to join the April 1 poll is seen as crucial to the west’s growing engagement with Myanmar, as it opens up after decades of diplomatic isolation.

More significant, Ms Suu Kyi’s assessment of the poll’s conduct will be critical in determining whether the US and European Union lift sanctions imposed after a violent military crackdown on the pro-democracy movement in 1988.

The government on Friday announced the postponement of voting in three constituencies in Kachin state, in the north, citing security concerns. Opposition candidates and diplomats questioned the decision, noting the constituencies are not in conflict zones where Kachin ethnic rebels are fighting for independence.

Throughout the campaign, the NLD has complained of “unfair treatment” and obstruction by local authorities, and has questioned anomalies in voter lists. The government has tried to address some of the concerns.

“Everyone knows they want Suu Kyi in parliament, even just to give them legitimacy,” said a European diplomat. Myanmar last week invited US, EU and other observers to monitor the poll. US and EU officials said they would participate but stressed they would not be conducting official observations.

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