Minister-Counselor Michael Thurston of the Department of State visited FSU last week to discuss the U.S. government’s efforts for democratic reform in Burma. In what Thurston refers to as not a pivot, but a “re-emphasis” or “renewal” of attention in Asia, the United States has made great strides toward legitimizing the Burmese government. In efforts to cooperate with the U.S., they have already released prisoners arrested for peaceful protesting, negotiated with the United Nations, and, in 2012, held a free and fair by-election. The end goal of the Department of State’s involvement is a free and fair general election, which they hope to accomplish by the end of this year.
As Chargé d’Affaires (Chief of Mission), Thurston accompanied former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on her visit to Burma, where she met with Aung San Suu Kyi, the leader of the opposition and current chairperson of the National League for Democracy in Burma, along with other officials. Aung San Suu Kyi has been a key player in the reforms, as one of the Department of State’s biggest demands was to allow her to run for office. The Burmese government had to re-amend their constitution in order for her to be able to do so, as they had previously detained and kept her after deeming her a threat to the country. To the surprise of the Burmese government, the by-election proved very successful for Kyi’s party (the NLD), as they won 43 out of 44 seats (the one loss due to a technicality.) Though Burma has willingly cooperated thus far, they have yet to change the law restricting Kyi from running for president because of her dual nationality. The question remains, then, if Kyi is grooming a generation to follow her or if her legacy will end with her.
According to Thurston, if the general election does not go as planned the Department of State will be “put in a conundrum” which they do not, at the moment, have an answer to. However, their goal for a “peaceful transition to democracy” is just one of the many reasons why Thurston fully believes in the cause he is able to champion every single day and why he urges students to think about a career in which they will get to do the same with the DOS. Visit www.dirsoutheast.state.gov for more information.
By ASHLEY TRESSEL / Contributing Writer