The visit this week by Nobel Peace Prize laureate and democracy icon Daw Aung San Suu Kyi will certainly brighten the spirits of the sombre Thai people and could also lift the profile of the Thai junta and Myanmar’s top leader.
Yet we shouldn’t romanticize too much about “The Lady” and her capacity as the political realities in Myanmar and Thailand remain daunting. Besides, she is no longer a secular saint but a fully fledged politician.
Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s three-day visit will include a stop in Mahachai, the seafood hub where she made a rousing speech to thousands of Myanmar laborers four years ago on one of her first trips abroad after years of house arrest.
At least 3 million Myanmar migrants work in Thailand, both legally and illegally. Daw Aung San Suu Kyi would like to see many of them return home and contribute to her country’s economy – to the dismay of Thai employers who rely heavily on the workforce from next door.
Daw Aung San Suu Kyi is expected to thank Thailand for embracing the migrants and to remind the government to take care of their welfare, wages and human rights. She needs to let them know she cares, since they played a significant role in persuading relatives back home to “vote for change” and install the National League for Democracy (NLD) government last November.
Thai democracy lovers and the Myanmar exile community are also curious about what Daw Aung San Suu Kyi will say about human rights in general. Having spoken out for years in support of students, politicians, ethnic groups and others persecuted by the Myanmar military, will she have a good word for those opposing the military strongmen running Thailand? Expect a few vague words of consolation to Thai people about working toward full democracy.