Watching the two women in Bangkok at the World Economic Forum was like watching two football players – one from a top English Premier League team and another from a local school team. Football is all about passion, work rate and practice to achieve excellence. The same qualities apply in politics. Both games are about winning hearts and uniting a team and fans to gain victory.
Watching Suu Kyi’s overwhelming welcome in Mahachai – where thousands of migrant workers greeted her with placards reading “Free Myanmar”, “When Will We Go Home?” and “Long Live Democracy in Myanmar” – was a clear sign that she means much more to the people of her country than our premier does to us.
Watching her, I recalled what I once heard from a veteran journalist in Myanmar. He’d once questioned The Lady over her marriage to a foreigner – something that her opponents try to use to her disadvantage. Then the chance came for him to interview her, and he asked her about her choice of husband. Her reply completely removed any possible doubt about her. Suu Kyi told him that she didn’t have a wide choice. She grew up and spent most of her life abroad, and she didn’t know any Burmese man she could fall in love with and marry. But she did have a choice when it came to her country, and she chose to be a politician because of her love for her country.
Her explanation of why she became a politician has been amplified over the years, and has been vindicated by her actions and commitment rather than the false promises we often hear from others during election campaigns. As powerless as she was during years of house arrest, Aung San Suu Kyi has emerged as a powerful woman in her own right. The thousands of migrant workers from Myanmar in Thailand can testify to that, as their euphoria in Mahachai so amply demonstrated. She is able to light up hope for her people even outside her homeland, and even without an election victory.
“I’ll try to develop our country so that you can go back home and apply your skills and knowledge and make our nation prosper,” she told the migrant workers who flocked to hear her speech in Mahachai. They know that she may not be able to solve all problems that they endure in Thailand, but they believe she will do her best.
Aung San Suu Kyi has chosen her path in politics and has a strong determination to put Myanmar on the democratic map of the world. She has never given up the pursuit of her goal, and is determined to see democracy and human rights flourish in her country. And that is the hope she gives to her people.
Obviously, she is in a different league compared to Thailand’s first female premier. After all, Yingluck Shinawatra didn’t have a choice when she was chosen as a candidate for the top post. She is not passionate about politics and has little experience in politics. It is more likely that if we put Thaksin, the premier’s brother, on the same pitch as Suu Kyi, he would continue to try to draw a comparison between himself and the pro-democracy icon. Despite being a fugitive, he insists that his political plight is not that different from that of Suu Kyi. Besides, he claims that he has made sacrifices for true democracy as well.
Yet these claims cannot stand up to scrutiny, especially after the scenes we saw during Suu Ky’s historic visit. The social media have singled out the one most obvious difference between Thaksin and Suu Kyi: “One man is asking the people to fight for him so he can return home, while another woman is vowing to fight so her people can return home.”
Suu Kyi’s first foreign trip to Bangkok has unquestionably sparked new hope for Burmese people in Thailand as well as in Myanmar, while the public in Thailand look at their homeland, with chaos in Parliament and in politics, and feel depressed and shattered. With its genuine democracy leader, Myanmar will be a land of hope while Thailand has got to live with what it lacks.
It’s a gloomy political outlook for Thailand. Nevertheless, if one tries to look on the bright side, Thailand still has strength in democracy and the rule of law. Our strong democracy has made it possible for the sister of a fugitive to become prime minister. And because of our secure rule of law, the premiere’s brother cannot return to his homeland.