And now for the Thein Sein show

Aung San Suu Kyi's foreign trips received more fanfare, but President Thein Sein may have more international impact.


    The fanfare of Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi's trips to Thailand and Europe is over, and now the real work must begin.

    The first step was Suu Kyi's official debut in parliament as an MP on Monday, and the next will be President Thein Sein's turn in the international spotlight.

    There won't be as much hype surrounding the official visits of the Myanmar president as there was for the world's most famous member of parliament, but perhaps there should be.

    Suu Kyi was rightly lauded during her recent trips. It was, after all, the first time she had stepped foot on foreign soil in 24 years.

    At times, however, it appeared as if she was the leader of Myanmar on official state visits. These images must have irked the president and many of his colleagues in government, both military and civilian.

    The first stop was to Thailand, where Suu Kyi was supposed to share the spotlight with the reformist president at the World Economic Forum on East Asia. He postponed, citing domestic issues that needed to be taken care of.

    He subsequently postponed again and there was clearly tension between the two over some aspects of her itinerary, like meeting with Myanmar ethnic minority leaders.

    The decision not to attend the forum in Bangkok was puzzling. He surely would also have been widely praised for his government's reforms, which have included the engagement of Suu Kyi and resulted in her seat in parliament.

    Well, now it's Thein Sein's turn. He will visit Thailand in July, and has also been invited to travel to the United Kingdom. Suu Kyi's travels were, of course, hugely symbolic and a massive sign that things are changing.

    But, for now, she is just that: a symbol, albeit a powerful one. During the president's state visits, real business can be discussed between leaders, measures such as the continued easing of sanctions, human rights and the economy.

    For Suu Kyi, this is also now time to focus on what concrete steps she can do to help her country. She's now inside the system, as opposed to being an activist on the outside.

    She must start taking a stand on issues like the violence in Rakhine State between Muslims and Buddhists.

    What is her party's policy on the stateless Rohingya? Do they have one? When will she try to put pressure on the government to release all remaining political prisoners? When will she call on the Myanmar Army to withdraw from some areas of Kachin State?

    These are still delicate times for Myanmar and Suu Kyi, and substance is what the people need now if the effects of the political changes are to filter down.



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