The first trip abroad in more than two decades by Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi appears to have strained her crucial relationship with President Thein Sein, who is leading the country’s transformation from military dictatorship to embryonic democracy.
Soon after Suu Kyi returned home on Sunday from Thailand, an adviser to Myanmar’s President criticized her for lacking “transparency” in carrying out her trip and for her comments warning international investors against “reckless optimism” over Myanmar.
“Personally, I really admire her, but I have a doubt,” the adviser, Nay Zin Latt, said in an e-mail.
Public criticism of Suu Kyi, even in its mildest form, is rare, partly because she is such a popular figure in the country.
Nay Zin Latt’s comments were the first by one of Thein Sein’s advisers – who serve as spokesmen – since the President cancelled a trip to Thailand on Friday.
The Thai news media is portraying the cancellation as a reaction to Bangkok’s handling of Suu Kyi’s visit.
The fact that she was allowed back into the country on Sunday was a milestone on Myanmar’s road to national reconciliation.
During the periods when she was not under house arrest in the past two decades, she chose not to travel abroad for fear of being denied re-entry by Myanmar’s military rulers.
Yet the discontent over her six-day visit to Thailand underlines the fragility of her country’s transition.
The complicated and delicate relationship between the President and MsSuu Kyi, a newly elected lawmaker, is in some ways the bedrock of the reform process in Myanmar. Their meeting last August accelerated the changes sweeping the country and helped persuade Suu Kyi to rejoin the political system.
“Most of the improvements in Burma these days are because of the relationship between Thein Sein and Aung San Suu Kyi,” said senior researcher Win Min of the Vahu Development Institute, an organization set up by Harvard-trained Myanmar exiles that studies issues related to Myanmar.
“If this relationship is strained, it could hurt national reconciliation.”
The abrupt cancellation of President Thein Sein’s visit to Thailand appears to have been a message to Bangkok – and other governments across the region – that Myanmar’s leader will not tolerate being overshadowed by Ms Suu Kyi’s star power.
The cancellation came nearly a week after he pulled out of the two-day World Economic Forum in Bangkok, which ended on Friday, where he was slated to speak, and where Suu Kyi urged potential investors in Myanmar to proceed with caution in a speech.
Underlying the Thai government’s sensitivities towards Myanmar is a huge project for a seaport and joint economic zone in Myanmar that would connect to Thailand and provide access to the Indian Ocean.
Thai Rath, the largest newspaper in Thailand, reported on Sunday that Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra had said in an interview that she was concerned Suu Kyi’s visit had damaged Thailand’s relationship with Myanmar.
Thein Sein was “irritated” by Suu Kyi’s trip, the newspaper said, adding that Yingluck had ordered the Thai Foreign Ministry to “clarify” details of the visit to the public.
Despite the turbulence caused by her trip, it is possible that relations between Suu Kyi and the President will remain on an even keel.
Many analysts believe she and Thein Sein have a rapport, and Suu Kyi has said on numerous occasions that she considers the President to be sincere in his desire for change.