Suu Kyi Paves the Way for Burma’s Future

Burmese opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi this week began yet another landmark trip abroad, this time to the US. Following close behind her, President Thein Sein will also travel to the US next week to attend the UN General Assembly meeting in New York.

This is not the first time that their itineraries have overlapped. In May, Suu Kyi made her first trip outside of Burma in more than two decades, traveling to Thailand to speak at the World Economic Forum in Bangkok. Thein Sein was also scheduled to attend the same event, but pulled out when it became clear that his presence would be completely overshadowed by that of the Lady.

For a leader trying to stake out a position on the world stage, that was bad enough. But Thein Sein was reportedly even more upset when Suu Kyi urged other world leaders to regard Burma’s nascent reforms with “cautious optimism.” She also pointedly warned against investments that would benefit the country’s established elite, meaning cronies of the government.

Kyaw Zwa Moe is editor (English Edition) of the Irrawaddy magazine. He can be reached at [email protected]

When Suu Kyi later met with adoring crowds of supporters from Thailand’s vast Burmese migrant community, and paid a visit to a camp for refugees displaced by decades of ethnic conflict in Burma, Thein Sein must have felt that Suu Kyi was determined to undermine his government’s legitimacy.

Whether that was the case or not, there can be no doubt that Suu Kyi’s visit strained relations between her and the president, the two people upon whom Burma’s prospects for future progress most depend.

Naturally, some wonder if the two leaders’ visits to the US this month will have a similar chilling effect on their relationship.

The answer, fortunately, is that such an outcome is not likely this time around.

Why not? Because Suu Kyi’s interaction with the president and other members of his government has intensified in recent months, making it less likely that either side will do anything to inadvertently damage the detente between them.

Suu Kyi met with Thein Sein twice last month while she was in Naypyidaw as a sitting Member of Parliament for her National League for Democracy (NLD). In the same capacity, and as the head of a presidential committee on rule of law, Suu Kyi has also had numerous opportunities to meet with other senior government officials.

Already, Suu Kyi has made it clear that she doesn’t want to create any embarrassments for Thein Sein ahead of his trip. On the key issue of sanctions, for instance, her words no doubt were music to the president’s ears.

“I do support the easing of sanctions,” she told reporters on Tuesday. “I think that our people must start taking responsibility for their own destiny. I do not think we should depend on US sanctions to keep up the momentum of our movement for democracy.”

No sooner had she expressed this view than the Obama administration announced that it had lifted a travel ban imposed on Thein Sein and Lower House Speaker Shwe Mann—a largely symbolic move that could soon be followed by more substantial measures, such as the removal of a ban on Burmese imports.

On another sensitive issue—the recent communal clashes in Arakan State between ethnic Arakanese Buddhists and Rohingya Muslims—Suu Kyi also stressed that she had no desire to make Thein Sein’s job any more difficult than it already is.

“We do not want to criticize the government just for the sake of making political capital. We want to help the government in any way possible to bring about peace and harmony in [Arakan] State. Whatever help is asked from us, we are prepared to give if it is within our ability to do so,” she said.

This may sound like a strange sentiment coming from an opposition leader—indeed, some are already saying that she has abandoned her rightful role as a critic of the government—but this ignores Burma’s unusual political circumstances.

While Suu Kyi has frequently spoken of the need for human rights and rule of law, at this particular juncture in her efforts to reshape Burma’s political culture, her first priority is national reconciliation. To achieve her longer-term goals, she must first get the military—or as much of it as possible—on board with plans to transform Burma into a democratic nation.

To date, there has been no real dialogue between the NLD and the government about the direction the country should take. Suu Kyi clearly believes, however, that she can talk to Thein Sein and some other members of the government, and that more far-reaching discussions will eventually be possible. In the meantime, she continues to try to build trust by collaborating with the government on some issues.

The trouble with this approach, of course, is that other groups—most notably, Burma’s ethnic minorities—are feeling that they have been left out of the loop. Some have understandably expressed frustration with Suu Kyi’s apparent embrace of Thein Sein’s agenda.

But this is not the time to start distrusting Suu Kyi’s intentions. While some have suggested that she has merely shifted into full politician mode, conveniently ignoring her own principles for political gain, the reality is not so simple.

By paving the way for Thein Sein to have a successful US visit, Suu Kyi is not just building trust with the government, but strengthening elements within it that are more committed to reform. She does this because she knows these reformists are both vulnerable to a military backlash, and indispensable to the ultimate goal of persuading the armed forces to return to the barracks.

And that, in the end, is the key to lasting peace in Burma.

2 Responses to Suu Kyi Paves the Way for Burma’s Future

  1. The Burmese Freedom Fighter

    What a thoughtful and
    considerate comment for a long term peace, stability and tolerated
    democratization of Burma! The transition from oppression to liberation,
    military rule to civilians’, pariah state to democracy; it requires zero
    tolerance of mistake from all party concerned in advancing from the hope to
    realization of an end to a half century of dictatorship rule.


    What a rewarding to be a part
    of this historic turning point of momentous one for Burma after vigorous
    struggle for over 2 decades; the moment that come with a high price of enduring
    suffering of millions of people in imprisonment, forced labor, refugee camp,
    and the life of internally displaced people for their believe.


    This is the transition time on
    both sides indeed: the oppressor and oppressed, an endeavor to understanding,
    trust building, overcoming the differences and move on. Those who are not in
    this path on both sides will be left behind. The time has come for a change in
    Burma, the big change that will bring peace, stability and democratic rule. Fortunately,
    capable leaders are taking the helm with the interest of people before anything
    including theirs. Go Burma Go!


    Never have, I ever had moment
    of this joy in this democracy movement in finding possibility of all future
    potential in democratic Burma! Go Burma Go!

    The Burmese Freedom Fighter

  2. George Than Setkyar Heine

    Of course Daw Suu is the National Leader (elected as well) of Burma DISTINED  to CRAFT and SHAPE the  DESTINY of her PEOPLE and COUNTRY in the first place.
    Thein Sein’s the CLERK of Than Shwe’s since day one SELECTED by the dictator since he STAGE MANAGED the PUPPET HOUSE (parliament) at Naypyidaw in March 2011 after RIGGING the ELECTIONS as well.
    And BURMA UNDER Thein Sein’s WATCH today is still UNDER the PROTECTION and TUTELAGE of the communists in Beijing as evidenced by Thein Sein paying a PILGRIMAGE to Beijing before proceeding to New York as publicized.
    Hence, Daw Suu is having her HANDS FULL with the WORK LOAD – rule of law, peace commission not to mention Rohingya illegal immigration and looming UWSA (Wa Card) in the hands of the Chinese communists ready to launch their campaign into Burma once the Reds feel UNCOMFORTABLE OVER the US led West FORAGING INTO BURMA with the view to SPLIT THE SPOILS (exploit the situation and natural resources and other business interests in Burma) with the military backed pseudo-civilian rulers in Naypyidaw and their CRONIES loaded with CASH (black money) POISED TO LAUNDER their ILL-GOTTEN WEALTH once Obama and his colleagues in the West LIFT the SANCTIONS and PAVE THE WAY for the lot at Naypyidaw to MAKE EXTRA CASH while the people specifically the ETHNIC MINORITIES would still REMAIN CASH STRAPPED, in the hands of the regime’s cronies as SLAVES like in centuries past – king, barons and landlords ganging up on the ordinary people making them to sweat and serve as labor and subjects of the crown and slaves as well in Europe.
    Daw Suu would RUE the DAY when she colludes with Thein Sein and the US led West as well and LIFTS the SANCTIONS prior to PUTTING IN PLACE RELEVANT and REQUIRED LAWS and GUIDELINES that would SERVE to PROTECT/PREEMPT MONOPOLY on BURMA’S ECONOMY, BUSINESS and TRADE by the members of Thein Sein’s regime and specifically the CRONIES with FAT WALLETS – ill-gotten wealth accrued via robbing and seizing the lands and properties of the people at gunpoint literally while working in partnership with the Chinese communists in projects and interests exploiting/robbing the country’s natural resources and lands at the same time today.

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