WHEN Aung San Suu Kyi addressed half a million people at Yangon’s iconic Shwedagon Pagoda three decades ago, her defiant call for democracy in military-ruled Myanmar marked her for greatness.

A slight and elegant figure with a flower in her hair and dwarfed by the 325-foot gilded and diamond-encrusted pagoda, the steely ambition and vision of the daughter of Myanmar’s first president after independence from the British in 1948 shone out.

Yet to become a global hero and Nobel prize winner, she exuded dignity and calm as I accompanied her late husband, Tibetan scholar Michael Aris, to the epoch-shaping event. But as the lights flicker across Myanmar, the competence and administrative ability of her 14-month-old government are being questioned.

Power shortages are a legacy of almost five decades of military dictatorship and under-investment in the South-East Asian nation, but highlight the challenges facing Ms Suu Kyi as de factor leader of the nation’s 50 million people.

Her National League for Democracy won a crushing victory in the 2015 elections and the old elite accepted the people’s verdict.

Ms Suu Kyi, or “The Lady” as she is often called locally, would rightfully be president but is prevented by a bar on anyone whose children have foreign nationality assuming power. Her two sons by her late British husband are UK citizens.

The 72-year-old freedom-fighting icon has since trod a delicate balance focusing on national reconciliation, not unlike Nelson Mandela in post-apartheid South Africa.

One recognition of her achievements was the surprise decision last year by then US president Barack Obama to lift US sanctions and end the country’s decades-old near isolation.

That has attracted international investment with dangers attached, notably involving dealings with the conglomerates linked to a military regime that killed thousands during half a century of authoritarian rule.

Myanmar is a fledgling democracy but the military still holds the ultimate power with one-quarter of parliamentary seats and an effective veto on constitutional change.

Thus Ms Suu Kyi’s grip on power is fragile and fraught with difficulty in stitching together a patchwork of ethnic nationalities while dealing with virulent Buddhist nationalism. One of the most volatile situations is in the western state of Rakhine where tens of thousands of country’s Moslem Rohinga minority have alleged murder, rape and arson by the Myanmar military.

UN officials who interviewed some of the 70,000 Rohinga who had fled to neighbouring Bangladesh described their treatment as among the worst veteran human rights investigators have ever encountered.

Ms Suu Kyi has been widely criticised for her failure to speak out about grave human rights abuses. A UN report this month said the government’s policies are reminiscent of the previous military government and security and human rights are deteriorating.

There are concerns over press freedom which under the military regime was rigidly controlled but it was hoped would benefit from democracy. But the state still controls the main broadcasters and publications and journalists are under pressure to self censor.

On a more positive note, Myanmar, once known as the rice bowl of Asia and now one of its poorest countries, is positioning itself for a future that exploits its sea and river ports at the centre of trade in Asia.

Myanmar may also benefit from China’s One Belt One Road initiative as a trading link between China and India on the latter-day Silk Road if various Chinese investment complications can be resolved.

Tourism also offers rich pickings with Myanmar’s inclusion in the Lonely Planet’s Best of Travel list for 2017.

Earlier this year, Ms Suu Kyi promised to stand down if public frustration over slow reform hardens into a belief that her government has failed. That would be a sad end to a starring role in Burma that began by accident. She had been living quietly in Oxford but returned to Burma in 1988 to nurse her sick mother at the family home on Inya lake in Yangon. An uprising against the military began and was crushed with thousands killed. The daughter of General Aung San, father of Burma and responsible for independence from Britain, felt an overwhelming sense of duty to remain, first manifested at the Shwedagon Pagoda speech.

A huge reservoir of goodwill remains for a woman who endured 15 years of house arrest. Fearful of being barred from returning to Burma if she left, she was forced to miss the last days of her husband dying in the UK in her long campaign against the repressive regime.

But the jury remains out. The euphoria over the transition from a military junta is dimming as the daunting task of undoing half a century of authoritarianism and corruption hits home.