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Politics

Suu Kyi invokes iconic father to solidify support before election

Biopic and kyat note come as Myanmar's leader takes heat on economy

Myanmar plans a general election in November. Aung San Suu Kyi and the National League for Democracy dominated the 2015 election. (Photo by Htet Aing Phyoe)

YANGON -- Aung San Suu Kyi, the de facto leader of Myanmar, is calling upon the image of her celebrated father to reinforce her political support as she faces bubbling criticism of economic and domestic policies ahead of general elections in November.

The Central Bank of Myanmar began issuing a new 1,000-kyat note Tuesday that features a portrait of Aung San, a general who led Myanmar's independence movement. The bill, a commonly used denomination, was distributed to local banks that day and will be available at exchange counters on Wednesday.

Myanmar's government also began filming a new Aung San biopic in September. It aims to complete the movie before the elections, highlighting the general's achievements with an eye toward stirring support from conservatives and other groups. The production committee is headed by Aung Ko, a cabinet minister.

Suu Kyi, a pro-democracy icon who officially holds the title of state counselor, remains deeply popular in Myanmar. But a sluggish economy and stalled peace talks with various ethnic groups have fueled criticism. Some lawmakers from the ruling National League for Democracy have defected to a new party in protest of Suu Kyi's grip on power.

Appealing to nationalist sentiments could help Suu Kyi dispel such concerns. She appeared at the International Court of Justice in The Hague last month to defend Myanmar against charges of genocide related to the displaced Rohingya Muslim minority, burnishing her image as the country's defender against external pressures.

The new 1,000-kyat note, a commonly used denomination equivalent to almost $1, features a portrait of revolutionary leader Aung San.

But Myanmar's rural regions, which are home to many ethnic minorities and will be a focal point in the elections, bristle over what they see as forced reverence for Aung San.

"Aung San symbolizes the Bamar people and a Buddhist-centric brand of nationalism," said Yoshihiro Nakanishi, an associate professor at Kyoto University, referring to Myanmar's ethnic majority.

Protests greeted a statue of the general constructed by the National League for Democracy in a regional city.

The military junta that ruled Myanmar until 2011 avoided invoking Aung San, fearing this would bolster support for Suu Kyi -- who spent many years under house arrest -- and her pro-democracy movement. The junta gradually phased out bills with Aung San's portrait in lieu of those featuring mythical creatures and other images.

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