60 Minutes goes to Burma before the country's historic elections to report on its democratic movement and speak to the Nobel Prize-winning woman most responsible for it. Bill Whitaker reports from the former military dictatorship and speaks to the iconic opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi for a 60 Minutes story to be broadcast Sunday, October 25 at 7:00 p.m. ET/PT.
"I don't like to be called a symbol. And I don't like to be called an icon," says Suu Kyi, whose picture can be found in public places across the country. "I will just say that I have to work very, very hard. So I'd rather be known as a hard worker," she tells Whitaker.
Suu Kyi earned her hero status and the Nobel Peace Prize by leading a democratic movement against her country's military junta. They responded by crushing the movement and put her under house arrest for most of the next 20 years. Burma's military rulers released Suu Kyi in 2010 and two years later, she won a special election to the Burmese parliament.
Next month she is poised to lead her party to victory in the elections but even a huge win will not change the country overnight. The democracy in Burma is a limited one, checked by the military rulers who by their own constitutional decree maintain a permanent percentage of the seats in parliament. "It's not firmly on the path to democracy. We are on the path to disciplined democracy," says Suu Kyi. "I think it's democracy as seen by military authoritarian leaders."
As immensely popular as she is, Suu Kyi can never be president under the current system. The military's constitution also prohibits anyone with foreign born relatives to be president. Her sons are British, as was her late husband. Asked whether the law was written for her, she replies, "Of course, I dare to say publicly and openly that that particular clause is written with me in mind."
Whitaker covered the 1990 elections for CBS News. Suu Kyi was under house arrest at the time, but her party still won. The military ignored the results and in his return to Burma, he asks the president Thein Sein, a former general, if history will repeat itself. The president tells Whitaker, "I believe that it is-- there is no chance for something to happen like the situation in 1990. I firmly believe the elections this year will be free and fair."
Whitaker also reports on the issues facing the country that complicate the quest for democracy. More than 120,000 Muslims have been forced from their homes in the western part of the country in what human rights groups are calling ethnic cleansing. And the hard line against these people, known as the Rohingya, has been fomented by a group of extremist Buddhist monks. All of this means Suu Kyi, the hero of a democratic movement, is now forced to play politics. She says she hasn't condemned the Buddhists or the Muslims. "Because I base this on the simple fact that what we're trying to build up is harmony and national reconciliation," she tells Whitaker, who observes that she sounds like a politician. "I've always been a politician," says Suu Kyi.