RANGOON — In a meeting here with more than 80 political parties on Sunday, President Thein Sein urged the leaders of Burma’s next government to continue the course of reforms that his Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) set in motion four years ago, one week after the ruling government suffered a crushing defeat at the ballot box.
The president highlighted the country’s still nascent peace process and broader efforts at national reconciliation as among the issues in which the new government would be expected to pick up where his party left off. He urged all political parties in attendance to do their part to ensure a stable transition period, while reaffirming previously stated commitments to respect the poll’s outcome.
That outcome has sent shockwaves through Burma’s political establishment, with the opposition National League for Democracy (NLD) winning more than 80 percent of Union Parliament seats it contested in a Nov. 8 election that has shaped up to be the country’s freest and fairest vote in 25 years.
The president notably did not make specific mention of the NLD, speaking only of his hopes for “the next government.”
In an apparent flagging of the NLD’s sizeable parliamentary majority come next year, Thein Sein told political parties to ensure that appropriate checks and balances were in place to prevent abuses of power. He also urged the country’s future leaders to be mindful of the geopolitical challenges unique to Burma, given the Southeast Asian nation’s location sandwiched between the world’s two most populous countries, China and India.
Nyan Win, who attended Sunday’s meeting representing the NLD, said he was in complete agreement with the president’s remarks, adding that once the party was in power, it would prioritize national reconciliation and the peace process with the country’s ethnic armed groups.
Aye Maung, another attendee whose Arakan National Party was the Nov. 8 poll’s strongest performing ethnic political party, said he too agreed with the president’s message.
As at previous meetings bringing together the chief executive and political stakeholders, each of the political parties in attendance on Sunday was allowed four minutes to make a statement or put questions to Thein Sein. About one-third of all questions asked on Sunday pertained to the peace process.
Burma’s Union Election Commission (UEC) has not yet announced the preliminary results of all races, but with the vast majority of constituencies reporting, Suu Kyi’s party has already secured a commanding supermajority that will ensure it forms the next government after lawmakers vote on a president early next year.
Suu Kyi on Tuesday sent letters requesting to meet with Thein Sein, Burma Army commander-in-chief Snr-Gen Min Aung Hlaing and Union Parliament Speak Shwe Mann, with all three men agreeing to sit down with her, though a date for the occasion has not yet been set. The president’s spokesman last week said the meeting, which Suu Kyi’s letter indicated would be to discuss national reconciliation, will come after the UEC has finished tallying election results.
Thein Sein’s USDP was throttled in the Nov. 8 nationwide vote, with the military-backed party winning less than 10 percent of seats in the Union Parliament. The president has been credited in recent years with political and economic reforms that have allowed for greater freedom of expression and brought a surge in foreign investment, developments that the USDP was banking on to win votes on Nov. 8.
Critics, however, have contended that much of the early optimism surrounding his reform program was misplaced as the Burma Army proceeded to escalate offensives against some ethnic rebel groups and several activists and journalists critical of the government continued to face prison time for speaking out.
The USDP’s campaign focused on framing the party as initiator of democratic reforms that have resulted in a lifting of economic sanctions and a dramatic re-engagement with Western nations that for years had ostracized Burma’s former military junta over its abysmal record on human rights. That junta ceded power to Thein Sein’s nominally civilian government in 2011, with many former generals, including the president, shedding their military uniforms to join the ranks of the USDP-led government.