President Criticized After Saying Ceasefire Necessary for Successful Elections

By Yen Saning 2 October 2014

RANGOON — President Thein Sein has said that the signing of a nationwide ceasefire accord is necessary for the success of the 2015 general elections and a smooth political transition in Burma.

“This is the time that goodwill, patience and serious efforts of all the political forces are especially needed. Only when we can successfully implement a nationwide ceasefire accord, which is a very important step, can we start a political dialogue that can shape our country’s political future,” he said in his monthly address to the nation on Wednesday.

“[Please] note that only when we can start [dialogue], can we ensure political stability in the transition period, successfully hold the 2015 general elections, and have a smooth political transition,” Thein Sein said, according to a transcript of his remarks published in Burmese-language state media.

His remarks were rejected by an opposition lawmaker and a political analyst, who said that holding successful elections does not directly depend on the ceasefire talks.

The government and an alliance of 16 ethnic armed groups have been in talks over a nationwide ceasefire since mid-2013, but an agreement has proven elusive and last week the sixth round of high-level talks hit a deadlock. The 2015 elections are supposed to be the first free and fair elections in Burma after decades of military rule.

Hantha Myint, a member of the National League of Democracy’s Central Executive Committee member, said, “Whether there were ceasefire talks or not, elections were held in 1990, 2010 and 2012. I think it’s groundless to say that holding a [successful] election is not certain if a nationwide ceasefire agreement is not achieved.”

“But we do believe that the elections will have a more profound meaning if a nationwide ceasefire agreement is successful” before the 2015 elections, he added.

Yan Myo Thein, an independent political commentator, also criticized the president’s remarks, saying, “I think it is groundless, the analysis that this [a lack of a ceasefire] could lead to uncertainly about holding the 2015 elections.

“Because in what sort of situation were the 2010 elections held?” he said, referring to the rigged elections by the former military regime that gave the Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) its current parliamentary majority.

Yan Myo Thein questioned the reasons for the remarks. “What is behind this conclusion, do they want to postpone the 2015 elections? Or [does it mean] they are determined to hold the political dialogue before 2015? We can’t know for sure.”

Yan Myo Thein speculated that Thein Sein’s words also could be aimed at pressuring the ethnic armed forces into signing a nationwide ceasefire, adding that a ceasefire and a start to the political dialogue before the elections offered certain advantages to the government.

He said the government was eager to show to the United States that it is making progress in ending Burma’s decades-old ethnic conflict, while starting a dialogue before the elections would also allow the USDP to demand a greater role in the process—something that might be harder if the party suffers an electoral defeat in 2015.

Yan Myo Thein added, however, that it is “unreasonable” for the government to demand that the complex nationwide ceasefire and political dialogue are resolved in haste.

Additional reporting by Sanay Lin.