Businesswoman aims to change politics from the inside

Clad in a silk longyi sarong as she sits on an opulent sofa in her central Yangon mansion, Thet Thet Khine might seem like one of the most improbable new faces of the National League for Democracy — a party better known for grass-roots activism and former political prisoners. Yet, this affluent businesswoman, medical doctor, leading member of Myanmar’s key business group and diligent part-time postgraduate student is among a handful of women who ran for parliamentary seats in the Nov. 8 election.

She knows her life is about to change radically. For one thing, the 48-year-old will spend most of her time in Naypyitaw, the capital, to sit in parliament — while her teenage daughter and husband stay in Yangon. “It’s a family-run concern but now the wife will go into politics while the husband takes care of the business.”

Entering parliament is a dream come true for this high achiever. “I wanted to be a politician from a young age … but I ended up studying medicine and then going into business. Yet, I kept thinking about the kind of system … that would enable people to grow, the country to develop. When the system is wrong, everybody suffers. … I wanted to contribute toward building the right system here.”

In her typical can-do style, she plunged in at the deep end, securing a position with the NLD to run as a lower house candidate in the Yangon township of Dagon. She faced strong competition from incumbent politicians, as well as doubts among some business colleagues over her decision to join the NLD.

The ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party has been the natural partner for big business in Myanmar. But Thet Thet Khine was convinced that the NLD could make more of a difference to society, with its pledges to pursue political as well as economic change.

Valuable experience

Thet Thet Khine may have a natural flair for politics, but she worked long and hard for her new role. “As a member [and now vice president] of the Myanmar Women Entrepreneurs’ Association since 2003, I was lucky enough to gain international exposure and entry to leadership programs by joining regional leadership programs,” she said. Her role as joint secretary-general of the influential Union of Myanmar Federation of Chambers of Commerce and Industry also gave her confidence, “it taught me so much,” she added.

Thet Thet Khine is aware that she is one of the NLD’s few wealthy members. “There are two different perceptions,” she said. “Some people think it’s good that businesspeople are joining politics, and others are more concerned about their motivations. Maybe those people are under a kind of old-style socialist influence.”

Because of her business experience, Thet Thet Khine could gain a prominent position in the NLD-led government or in parliament. But she said with a smile, “I want to leave this decision with the party leaders,” she said. “My commitment is to contribute my best toward the development of the country. Whatever my role, I will try my best.”

Source: Nikkei Asian Review

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