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10 Far-out Charismatic Leaders (and the Trouble They Caused)

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Aung San Suu Kyi

In a photo circa 1989, Aung San Suu Kyi walks inside her house on in Yangon, Myanmar surrounded by supporters. STR/AFP/Getty Images
In a photo circa 1989, Aung San Suu Kyi walks inside her house on in Yangon, Myanmar surrounded by supporters. STR/AFP/Getty Images

For nearly two decades, activist Aung San Suu Kyi was imprisoned in her Myanmar (formerly Burma) home and became the symbol of liberation for her country. She is the daughter of the founder of the Burmese Independence Army, who originally negotiated the terms of Burmese independence from Britain and was later assassinated.

Suu Kyi lived an ordinary life in England with her British husband and children until she returned to Burma to attend her ailing mother. While there, she was asked to lead the pro-democracy movement. In 1988, she addressed a half million people on behalf of the National League for Democracy party in the hopes of bringing democracy to her home country. The country was ruled by a brutal army junta, though, and not surprisingly, it wasn't in favor of this idea. Although Suu Kyi's party won a landslide victory during a 1990 general election, the junta overturned the results, locked up Suu Kyi in her home and stayed in power. The junta offered to release her if she would leave Burma and stay out of politics but she refused, vowing to serve the people of Burma until death, and rarely seeing her family again [source: Nobel Prize].

But slowly, things changed. After intense international pressure, Suu Kyi -- by then, one of the world's most prominent prisoners of conscience -- was released in late 2010. The junta finally ended and real elections were held in 2012, when the National League for Democracy party won nearly every seat it contested [source: CBC News]. In 2015, her party won in a landslide, although she was barred from becoming president because of her sons' foreign citizenship. Lately, Suu Kyi's reputation as a human rights advocate has been tarnished. She has been criticized for doing nothing to stop the Myanmar military's persecution of the Muslim-minority Rohingyas, who were forced to flee in their thousands to Bangladesh. But her supporters maintain that she has little choice since the military retains serious power.

Last editorial update on Feb 20, 2020 10:36:20 am.

Author's Note: 10 Far-out Charismatic Leaders (and the Trouble They Caused)

As I wrote this piece, I tried to think of the most charismatic leader I've experienced. I was too young to remember John F. Kennedy, and many of the more current inspiring leaders -- Fidel Castro, Nelson Mandela -- live in other countries. But in the end, I decided it was Ronald Reagan. Whether you're more red or blue, Reagan had an ability to make you want to band together and help each other out, and he made you proud to be an American.

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