RANGOON — Responding to doubts about the current government’s willingness to hand over the reins, outgoing presidential spokesman Ye Htut said President Thein Sein had every intention of setting a “good precedent” for the country’s young democracy, calling a peaceful power transfer his administration’s “last victory.”
“What we are trying to do is establish a good democratic precedent—which has never happened in our country’s history since we achieved independence [in 1948]; that a government formed from an election transfers power peacefully to the next elected government,” Ye Htut told The Irrawaddy on Thursday. “We will do it as the last task of our government’s reforms, and it will be our last victory.”
In defensive remarks, Ye Htut pushed back against critics questioning what they claim are stall tactics by Thein Sein, who has agreed to meet with National League for Democracy (NLD) chairwoman Aung San Suu Kyi following her party’s election victory on Nov. 8, but has provided no firm timetable on when that occasion might take place. Suu Kyi put forward a request to meet the president 10 days ago, as the scale of the NLD victory became clear.
The president’s failure to promptly convene a meeting with Suu Kyi has led some to warn that the delay could imperil the transition to a new government led by the NLD.
Those concerns were “baseless,” Ye Htut said, adding that the president had ordered his cabinet in its first post-election meeting to prepare the way for a smooth and peaceful transition.
The presidential spokesman on Thursday offered greater clarity on when the Suu Kyi-Thein Sein meeting might take place, ruling out any time this month as he expounded on previous remarks that pegged a meeting to the Union Election Commission (UEC) completing its “electoral processes.” The statement had variously been interpreted as meaning once all election results had been announced, or potentially months down the line, if adjudication of disputed races were to drag on.
A provision of Burma’s election by-laws requiring the UEC to issue a report on the poll 45 days after Nov. 8 will apparently serve as the point at which the commission will be deemed to have finished its work.
Disputed results, it should be noted, could remain before a UEC-organized election tribunal well beyond that date, Dec. 23.
“The president will decide the meeting time as he likes and when it is convenient for him. This is clear,” Ye Htut said. “What you need to understand is that whether the meeting takes place or not is unrelated to the transition.”
The presidential spokesman, who is also Burma’s information minister, chided doubters who he said were not giving due credit to a government that had kept its word in the past.
“I will say to you all, you didn’t believe it when the president said he would initiate the reform process in 2011; you didn’t believe when he said he would strive for peace; and you also didn’t believe when he said he would conduct a free and fair election. But the president kept all of his promises and he will definitely do so with the transition too.”
The term of Thein Sein’s quasi-civilian government, which emerged from a 2010 general election widely viewed as rigged, will end in March of next year.
Suu Kyi last week asked to meet with the president, military commander-in-chief Snr-Gen Min Aung Hlaing and Union Parliament Speaker Shwe Mann. Letters sent to the three men expressed the opposition leader’s desire “to discuss with you in the spirit of national reconciliation” and requested to arrange the meeting within the next week.
Shwe Mann on Thursday honored that request. Min Aung Hlaing has similarly pledged to meet with Suu Kyi after the UEC’s mandate has been fulfilled.
Suu Kyi’s NLD won about 80 percent of seats up for grabs in this month’s general election, with the public voting overwhelming for her party over Thein Sein’s ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) and some 90 other political parties.