YANGON, Myanmar – Myanmar’s cash-strapped opposition party is tapping into the prestige of its leader: Two sweaters hand-knit by Aung San Suu Kyi have been auctioned for $123,000.
A green-and-white sweater with a floral design sold at a Friday night auction to an anonymous bidder for 63 million kyat, or $74,120.
On Thursday, a Myanmar-based radio station won a bidding war for a multicolored V-neck that fetched $49,000.
Suu Kyi has not publicly reacted to the success of her party’s two-day fundraiser, but aides said she was pleased with the results.
“Daw Aung San Suu Kyi is satisfied with the auction and the donations received,” close aide Ko Ni said Saturday. “She needs a lot of cash to carry out projects for the welfare of the people.” Daw is a term of respect in Myanmar.
The auction was part of a fundraising event organized by Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy party to raise money for education of poor children and health projects in Myanmar, an impoverished Southeast Asian nation also known as Burma.
Both sweaters were knitted by Suu Kyi at least 25 years ago when she was living in England and raising her two children, Ko Ni told The Associated Press.
“She made them when she was busy working, studying and taking care of her children,” Ko Ni said. “She wants to send the message that people should not stay idle but be diligent.”
Suu Kyi, a 67-year-old former political prisoner and winner of the 1991 Nobel Peace Prize, has become Myanmar’s biggest celebrity as the country transitions from a half-century of military rule. She is generally guarded about the family she left behind in England – but the auction indicates a new willingness to share her family history with an adoring public.
Ahead of the auction, Suu Kyi asked her brother-in-law in England to ship some of her personal belongings, which arrived in nine boxes on Wednesday just in time for the auction, Ko Ni said.
The Oxford graduate was raising two young sons with her late British husband when she returned to Myanmar in 1988 to nurse her dying mother. As daughter of the country’s independence hero, Gen. Aung San, who was assassinated in 1947 when she was 2, Suu Kyi found herself thrust into the forefront of pro-democracy protests against the military regime.
Over the next two decades, she became the world’s most famous political prisoner and won the adoration of her people, who call her “Amay Suu” – or “Mother Suu,” partly because she chose to stay with them over her own children. She declined opportunities to leave Myanmar, fearing she would not be allowed to re-enter.
Since her release from house arrest in 2010, Suu Kyi has reunited with her sons and completed a stunning trajectory from housewife to political prisoner to opposition leader in Parliament.
The proud new owner of the $49,000 red, green and blue V-neck sold Thursday said it was worth the money.
“It is priceless because the sweater was made my `Amay’ herself,” said Daw Nan Mauk Lao Sai, chairwoman of Shwe FM radio station.
“I bought the sweater because I value the warmth and security it will give,” she said, adding that she plans to hang it up in the station’s office for the whole staff to see.