This has been a banner day in Burma/Myanmar's first year of political transition. ASEAN leaders have agreed to Myanmar's request to assume the ASEAN chair in 2014. The National League for Democracy (NLD) decided to register as a political party to run in the coming by-elections. And, President Obama announced that he would send Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to visit Burma/Myanmar in December.
Let's hope this date, November 18, 2011, will mark a real turning point in the history of Burma/Myanmar's march to freedom and democracy. And, that these three events will energize the Naypyitaw government to complete the release of its remaining prisoners of conscience and press forward with genuine efforts to resolve its differences with the country's minority nationalities.
These three announcements also have the effect of setting a very challenging agenda for the Burmese leadership. They must prepare the country and its structures of government to receive large numbers of official and unofficial visitors, non-governmental organizations, and foreign press.
They can do this by dismantling security structures that have been traditionally designed to keep people out and closely control the movements of those allowed in. They must continue forward momentum with economic reform, political reconciliation, improvement of human rights as well as ameliorating the daily existence of its large impoverished population.
They must also ensure that the by-elections are free and fair and that the NLD is welcomed into the political fold. And finally, they must gird their loins for the onslaught of the security and support entourage that will accompany the Secretary of State and other high level political visitors they will receive from hereon out.
This is only the beginning. Perhaps the move to the spacious new capital in Naypyitaw was not such a bad idea after all.
Priscilla Clapp is a Senior Advisor to Asia Society's 2010 Burma Policy Task Force and former Chief of Mission at the U.S. Embassy in Burma.