For most of his career he was a loyal apparatchik in one of the world’s most brutal military regimes. But in the 12 months since he became president of Myanmar, U Thein Sein has been leading this country of 55 million down a radical path from dictatorship to democracy, vowing, as he told the nation earlier this month, to “root out the evil legacies deeply entrenched in our society.”
There are no pat answers as to why Thein Sein, a bespectacled and bookish 66-year-old with a sphinxlike smile, decided to shake up one of Asia’s poorest and most hermetic countries. And little has been published about the president, a former general who has been called Myanmar’s Mikhail Gorbachev, perhaps prematurely given the fragility of reforms.
But a trip to Kyonku, his birthplace, located in a remote corner of the country, offers some insights into his character and clues as to what prompted him to embark on such an ambitious reform program.
Kyonku is a small village in the delta of the Irrawaddy River, an area connected by a vast network of canals, inlets and rivers.
Four years ago, Mr. Thein Sein returned to the delta after a cyclone swept in from the Indian Ocean and devastated the area. Cylone Nargis was by far Myanmar’s worst natural disaster, killing more than 130,000 people and transforming the fertile countryside of Mr. Thein Sein’s childhood into a landscape of flattened villages and bloated bodies bobbing downstream. NYT