TODAY the world’s most famous political prisoner will walk out of her dilapidated house and take her first steps as a free woman in more than seven years.
To the roars of a crowd, she will climb the steps to Burma’s greatest holy site, the Shwedagon Pagoda.
As thousands of people converge in central Rangoon, she will deliver a speech that will give new courage to the opponents of the military regime.
If it happens, the release of Aung San Suu Kyi, the Burmese democracy leader, will be the biggest thing since Nelson Mandela’s release from prison.
Days after they took place in an atmosphere of resentful apathy, the junta’s transparently rigged general elections have been eclipsed by anticipation of a more momentous event.
According to the calculations of her lawyers, the latest sentence of house arrest expires about 4.30am (AEDT) today.
On Thursday, in a legal ritual that was never expected to yield results, Ms Suu Kyi’s lawyers lost their final appeal against her three-year sentence, commuted to 18 months, which was imposed last year after an American swam, uninvited, to her house.
Members of her party, the National League for Democracy, said yesterday they were confident of her imminent release.
“I think it will happen,” Win Tin said. The 81-year-old former political prisoner took the helm of the NLD after his release last year from 19 years in jail.
“When I was released it was like watering a flowerpot – the plant grows a bit fresher and a flower appears. Daw Suu Kyi’s release will be like the monsoon . . . It is a total change.”
After the end of her last period of house arrest in 2002, crowds gathered outside her house and there is good reason to expect similar scenes this weekend.
“When she is released people will move,” Mr Win Tin said. “They will come to her house, they will meet her, they will listen to her and they will become agitated by her.”
Burma’s generals were shaken by the Saffron Uprising, nationwide demonstrations of Buddhist monks in 2007. Why would they risk such fragile political stability so soon after their election? The answer may be that the junta is beginning to feel safe again. The Saffron Uprising was put down with beatings, killings and arrests, the memory of which remains a deterrent to protest.
Hundreds of opposition leaders were arrested, decapitating anti-government forces. The NLD’s decision to boycott the election also caused a rift within the party.