TIME’s Magazine’s list of the 100 Most Influential People of 2012 has a surprising inclusion this year―Burmese President Thein Sein.
The reform-minded former junta general has won the accolades of the prestigious publication’s editors, with national pro-democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi missing out despite being included three times in recent years.
And not everyone agreed with ignoring the Nobel Laureate who has just been elected as a member of the Burmese Parliament.
A student studying at a Bangkok university told The Irrawaddy that she thinks Thein Sein deserves the reward because of his efforts within a year of being president, but added that, “I voted for Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and was amazed to hear about Thein Sein being cited in the list and not her.”
U Ashin Zawana, a leading dissident monk and former political prisoner, said that Thein Sein was recognized by TIME because of his wide-reaching reform platform including initiating negotiations with the democratic opposition and ethnic groups which were shunned under the former military government.
But there remains a question whether the Burmese president is really an influential person on both domestic and international stage.
Aung Thu Nyein, a member of Vahu Development Institute, said this reward is to demonstrate international support for Thein Sein’s reforms during his administration.
“It is to show the encouragement of the international community to President Thein Sein for his obvious changes of Burmese politics from dictatorship to democracy,” he said.
However, some think that TIME’s editorial choice does not reflect the real situation in Burma for normal people.
Cherry Zahau, a prominent Chin activist, told The Irrawaddy on Thursday that, “the TIME recognition is just for his personal endorsement to encourage him to do what he needs to do for changes in Burma.”
“He cannot be called a very influential person because he does not even influence domestically,” she added, referring to continuous fighting and human rights abuses in ethnic regions such as Kachin and Shan states.
Despite his efforts to establish a peace process with the various ethnic nationalities, there are still conflicts out of his control and nothing has really changed on the ground until these ceasefire agreements are settled, she added.
Sally Thompson, the deputy director of Thailand Burma Border Consortium, said this TIME acknowledgment has shown that “Thein Sein’s decisions are being observed by the international community.”
“He is now under a lot of pressure to be able to produce significant results―to show that it’s not just talk, but actually its ongoing action that will result in a significant improvement for the people on the ground in the country,” she said.
However, she added that it is too early to say that this recognition will herald any benefit to the Burmese refugee population in Thailand in terms of returning them to their homeland.