Wednesday, Apr. 18, 2012

U Thein Sein

Since he took office a little more than a year ago, the President of Burma, U Thein Sein, has proved himself the architect of one of the most unlikely democratic transitions anywhere in the world.

It's been an amazing balancing act. He's had to keep on board the ex-generals who still dominate government, as well as army chiefs, top businessmen, the opposition parties — including the largest, led by Nobel laureate Daw Aung San Suu Kyi — and a young and dynamic civil society.

U Thein Sein, 67, is trying to perform a triple act of moving toward democratic government, overhauling one of the world's most backward economies and negotiating an end to over a dozen long-standing ethnic conflicts, all while the country remains under punishing sanctions.

And whether or not he succeeds will be important not just for Burma's 55 million people but for all of Asia.

Burma was until just recently a byword for almost every early 21st century ill. But if U Thein Sein gets his way, it may soon become a model for peaceful democratic change.

Thant Myint-U is a Burmese historian and author