RANGOON — Speculation over the political intentions of President Thein Sein kicked into high gear on Tuesday amid reports that Burma’s sitting chief executive would not run for a second term.
Stories published by the BBC and Reuters, citing different sources, both reported this week that the president would not seek re-election to Parliament in a general election scheduled for Nov. 8, but on Tuesday President’s Office Director Zaw Htay denied that Thein Sein had taken himself out of the running.
“Firstly, regarding the letter, we wanted to say it is very complicated,” he said, referring to a letter purportedly from Thein Sein that the BBC Burmese service obtained indicating that he would not run for the seat in Parliament that he won in 2010, citing health concerns.
“The second point is our president has already spoken about it, that he will run for a second term based on our country’s political situation,” said Zaw Htay, who highlighted that the president had made his position clear in an interview with Japanese media during a recent trip to that country. “The third point is he will base [his decision] on [whether there is] support from our people in the country. [If so], then he will run for a second term.”
Other media reports this week have indicated that a candidate list for Burma’s general election from the ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) does not include Thein Sein’s name among those put forward as running for a seat in the legislature.
That, however, would not disqualify him from the presidency under Burma’s 2008 Constitution. Laying out the procedure for nominating the three vice presidential candidates from among whom the president is chosen by Parliament, the charter’s Article 60 states that candidates can be drawn “from among the Hluttaw [Parliament] representatives or from among persons who are not Hluttaw representatives.”
In a post to its official website on Monday, the USDP said Thein Sein’s administration had forwarded a list of 50 people that it was seeking for inclusion on the party’s candidate roster. The USDP had accepted 40 of those nominees, the post said.
Asked by The Irrawaddy whether Thein Sein was on the party’s candidate list, Zaw Htay deferred.
“This is a [internal] party matter,” he said.
In a separate report, Reuters cited an anonymous senior President’s Office official as saying the president would not run in Burma’s general election “because of his health condition.”
Reuters later published a “clarification” in which it cited Zaw Htay as saying the president had not made a decision on the matter.
Zaw Htay denied that health concerns would factor into Thein Sein’s decision.
“The president is quite healthy,” he told The Irrawaddy. “It is not true, as some media have reported, that he could not run for a second term because of poor health.”
Zaw Htay took the opportunity to offer a subtle rebuke to those claiming to speak on behalf of the president, as was the case in October 2013, when USDP leader Shwe Mann said Thein Sein had told him that he would not seek re-election.
“We [the President’s Office] gave this explanation one time already, when U Shwe Mann spoke about the president not running for election a second time,” he said, referring to subsequent disapproving comments made by presidential spokesman Ye Htut.
“For us, the first question we want to ask is when was this letter issued, and why was this letter made public at this time?” Zaw Htay said.
The conflicting information emanating from Naypyidaw would appear to give credence to rumors of a power struggle at the top of the USDP leadership, presumably pitting Thein Sein against Shwe Mann, who serves as speaker of the Union Parliament.
Senior party leader Aung Thaung acknowledged in an interview with BBC Burmese last month that the party was split, though he did not elaborate on the nature of the schism.
Shwe Mann has openly aired his presidential ambitions, while Thein Sein’s most recent public remarks indicated that he was open to running for re-election but had not yet decided to contest.