Further worldwide recognition for Burma’s new era of liberalization arrived with Aung San Suu Kyi and reformist President Thein Sein making the top ten of an informal readers’ poll for TIME magazine’s “person of the year.”
The dynamic duo came together in fifth place—scoring 96.37 percent with 1,487,945 “definitely” and 56,021 “no way” votes—ranking between 16-year-old Olympic gold medal-winning gymnast Gabby Douglas in fourth and American satirist Stephen Colbert in sixth place.
“Who knew that a general and a lady would join together to shake Burma out of its tropical torpor?” wrote TIME East Asia Correspondent and China Bureau Chief Hannah Beech in her outline of the two candidates.
“The combined efforts of Burma’s President (retired general Thein Sein, 67) and the country’s top dissident, who is now an elected Member of Parliament (Nobel Peace Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, 67), are transforming a nation that cowered for five decades under brutal military rule.”
However, the survey has little bearing on TIME’s official person of the year—chosen by the prestigious publication’s editors and set to be revealed on Dec. 19—and that is illustrated by North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un adding to his much-vaunted spoof World’s Sexiest Man award to yet again pinch top spot with 5.6 million votes.
Nevertheless, Burma’s contenders are certainly in contention for the top prize after a year of dazzling reform including the release of political prisoners, a relaxation of media censorship and Suu Kyi entering Parliament along with 42 of her National League for Democracy colleagues.
Thein Sein made TIME’s Magazine’s list of the 100 Most Influential People of 2012 in April with democracy icon Suu Kyi conspicuously missing out despite being included three times in recent years. And then both the president and opposition leader were jointly ranked in first place in the list of 100 global thinkers for 2012 released by Washington-based Foreign Policy magazine last month.
“In November, US President Barack Obama validated the reform process by visiting the country known officially as Myanmar,” added Beech. “Much still has to be done, including taming ethnic strife. But for the first time in decades, Burma may finally be on the right track.”