Aung San Suu Kyi
Myanmar is about to complete a once-unthinkable transition to democracy after more than 50 years of military dictatorship. Aung San Suu Kyi, 70, won’t be the country’s new leader—at least not officially. But hers was the steady trickle of resistance that wore down the stone of Myanmar’s despotism over almost 30 years of opposition.
Suu Kyi, the daughter of one of the founding heroes of the country’s post–World War II independence movement, returned to Myanmar from exile in 1988 to oppose the junta that had taken power in the early 1960s. She co-founded the National League for Democracy and steadfastly renounced violence, even as the military subjected her to house arrest for nearly 20 years. Her personal sacrifice gradually rallied global opinion around her cause, the more so after she won a Nobel Peace Prize in 1991. Worn down by isolation and sanctions, the regime eventually agreed to allow free elections, which the NPD won in a landslide last November.
While rules imposed by the junta kept her from personally running for office, it was Suu Kyi’s nearly mythical reputation that rallied voters to her party. And she has made it clear that she will wield decisive behind-the-scenes authority (backing titular President Htin Kyaw, a friend and former aide) in the next, risky phase of the nation’s history.
Myanmar’s challenges include a struggling economy and violent conflict among its ethnic groups. But Suu Kyi has already demonstrated that her authenticity as a leader—her willingness to live the right message at any cost—can be a tremendous force for good.