Suu Kyi's father makes comeback on campaign trail

Aung San Suu Kyi addresses supporters on the campaign trail.

YANGON, Myanmar - His image is emblazoned on T-shirts and posters on Myanmar's campaign trail, but the young revolutionary in a military cap and greatcoat is not standing for election.

He is Aung San Suu Kyi's late father, the country's independence hero.

"I am the daughter of General Aung San," Suu Kyi repeatedly told supporters who flocked to see her campaigning around the country for by-elections that could see her enter parliament for the first time.

From flyers on taxi windscreens to stickers worn on people's faces, pictures of the father and daughter are now widely seen in the country formerly known as Burma as it emerges from decades of military rule.

Their rapid return to the public eye is the most visible sign of reform under a new nominally civilian regime that took power last year, months after a controversial election and the release of Suu Kyi from years of detention.

Aung San, who was mysteriously assassinated in 1947, remains a potent symbol of pride in Myanmar, but for 20 years his image was rarely seen in public under a junta anxious not to draw attention to its incarceration of Suu Kyi.

"The previous military regime had tried very deliberately to reduce Aung San's visibility and downplay his legacy, in an attempt to reduce the political power of his daughter," said independent Myanmar expert Richard Horsey.

Sweeping reforms under a new regime have seen President Thein Sein encourage Suu Kyi and her National League for Democracy (NLD) party to contest by-elections to be held on Sunday, making a return to mainstream politics.

In a landmark meeting last August, the president and the opposition leader were pictured standing under a portrait of Aung San - the first high-level acknowledgement of both father and daughter.

It is a far cry from the days under the old regime, which even removed the late general's face from postal stamps and banknotes.

"The photograph of Thein Sein meeting Aung San Suu Kyi under a portrait of her father will be the iconic image of Myanmar's transition," said Horsey.

Born in 1915 under British colonial rule, Aung San became leader of the nationalist fighters in what was then Burma, and joined the Japanese in their 1942 invasion of the country during World War II.

Unhappy with the new occupying force, he later switched allegiance to the Allies, leading to the return of the British.

He went on to negotiate independence from Britain but before the agreement took effect in early 1948 he was gunned down, apparently by a political rival.

"General Aung San gave his life for our country," said a Suu Kyi supporter who turned out at a recent rally in the town of Kawhmu near Yangon.

The late soldier is considered the founder of Myanmar's modern military, and some of the country's ethnic minorities see him as a unifying figure thanks to his efforts to bring the different groups together.

Often referred to simply as Bogyoke, or General, Aung San is an electoral asset in areas where many people view Suu Kyi as a member of the majority Burman elite.

"I will vote for mother Suu as she is a daughter of General Aung San," ethnic Shan housewife Hla Win said in the northeast town of Lashio where the Nobel laureate campaigned recently.

The democracy leader, who was just two when her father died, is widely respected in her own right by many Burmese for the personal sacrifices she made for the democracy movement during long years of detention.

Suu Kyi herself is influenced by Aung San less as a father and more as an "inspiration from one leader of the country to the next", said NLD spokesman Han Thar Myint.

Suu Kyi now plans to honour her father by supporting a big-budget film biopic planned for release in 2015 to mark the centenary of his birth.

Filmmaker Min Htin Ko Ko Gyi, who is in charge of the scriptwriting team, said the movie is "part of the political game" being played between Suu Kyi and the regime.

"They thought if they removed General Aung San's pictures for 23 years and put Daw Aung San Suu Kyi under house arrest, people would forget father and daughter and they could do whatever they wanted. But it did not happen."

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