A week ago, Myanmar’s opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi returned home after visiting Bangkok to address the World Economic Forum. It was her first trip abroad for 24 years and it did not turn out well.
Like a kind of serene Mrs Bean, Suu Kyi managed to upset her Thai hosts, her government back in Myanmar, the entire press corps and even some of her own people.
The cause of it all was a simple lack of proper planning.
It was best described in the International Herald Tribune, a liberal democratic publication that would normally eschew saying anything negative about The Lady.
But on this occasion, its headline was apt: “Amid Disorganisation, Aung San Suu Kyi Visits Thailand.”
The article related how, despite global excitement about her trip, Suu Kyi had, upon arrival, snubbed waiting journalists and photographers and rapidly left the airport without speaking.Things went downhill from there.
No one from her National League for Democracy had bothered to inform the Thai Foreign Ministry or the security services about her trip.
That caused major headaches, particularly over her plan to travel out of Bangkok to a refugee camp in Tak province on the northwest border where ethnic Myanmar minorities are sheltered.
Knowing the area is prone to sporadic violence and permission to visit is restricted, provincial officials were dumbfounded not to receive any prior request from her team to go there.
Somehow, on her final day, a scrambled excursion to the Mae La camp was arranged, but it was also something of a slipshod affair.
Only a small number of refugees got to see Suu Kyi, who was unable to address them or visit a nearby clinic, and once again journalists were sidelined.
As the IHT noted: “Ms Aung San Suu Kyi’s style might be described as spontaneous.” Or just chaotic.
Myanmar’s President Thein Sein, who had also agreed to address the economic forum, changed his mind when he belatedly learned that Suu Kyi was going – and would get top billing.
Frankly, it was pretty daft of both Suu Kyi and the WEF to arrange things like this and not tell Thein Sein about it.
Imagine what would happen if Cambodia’s Prime Minister Hun Sen had agreed to go and speak, and then suddenly heard that Sam Rainsy was giving the keynote address?
President Thein Sein, who is clearly not ready to cede the con yet, rightly stiffed the forum.
More worryingly, he may be pressured by hardliners to tell Suu Kyi that in future she can only take trips, inside and outside the country, if her itinerary gets advance approval from the cabinet.
Well, perhaps we should not be too harsh, after all she and her party were treated despicably over the past two decades and cannot be expected to suddenly start functioning like an efficient, long-established organisation.
That said, her speech in Bangkok about the absence of the “rule of law” in Myanmar, and her call for “healthy scepticism” toward Thein Sein’s reforms, was either naive caprice or plain stupidity.
Okay, she was correct when she said: “We do not have a clean and independent judicial system.” But then, with the arguable exception of Singapore, neither does anywhere else in ASEAN.
After she returned home, statements were issued saying that the flood of articles about how her trip had damaged relations with Thailand and upset her own government were quite wrong. Well, sure, of course, they were.
That was confirmed when the New Light of Myanmar, a state-owned rag which parrots government opinion, reported that the rapport between Suu Kyi and Thein Sein could “vanish”.
It went on to state that “anxieties” had arisen after her trip and it chided her for making negative comments to potential investors.
Certainly, she will need to be more careful on her European trip, starting on Wednesday, or else the gates at University Avenue may close behind her once again.
Contact Roger at [email protected]