Thein Sein Touts Reformist Legacy in Last Assembly Address

By Moe Myint 28 January 2016

RANGOON – During a farewell address to the Union Parliament in Naypyidaw on Thursday, President Thein Sein described what he felt were his administration’s achievements and suggested that Burma in transition is more stable than its Middle Eastern counterparts.

“Five years on, terrorist attacks are happening in Middle Eastern countries in democratic transition. Millions of civilians have fled as war victims. Anarchy and extremist uprisings have pushed them far from their original democratic goals,” he said, without listing any countries by name.

It was not the first time that the president has drawn comparisons between Burma and the Arab world. In the lead-up to November general election, Thein Sein posted a video to his Facebook page featuring a montage of violence following the 2011 push for political change known as the Arab Spring.

The events were contrasted with selected peaceful images of Burma under his own administration. Many saw it as a cautionary message to voters, not to stray from the leadership of his Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP).

“Although our country has some difficulties and challenges, [we have] implemented democratic transitions step-by-step and our processes are stable,” he said on Thursday.

In his speech, Thein Sein described what he felt were his government’s accomplishments: the release of political prisoners, the signing of a nationwide ceasefire agreement and a successful general election.

On January 17, Human Rights Watch described a more tainted presidential legacy.

“Burma’s growing number of political prisoners is the most glaring indictment of President Thein Sein’s human rights record,” said Phil Robertson, director of the Human Rights Watch Asia division. The group highlighted an increase in the arrest of students and land rights activists in 2015—now numbering more than 400.

Robertson also criticized Thein Sein’s administration for passing discriminatory “race and religion” laws regulating marriage, religious conversion, and, in some cases, birth rates.

However, the laws celebrated by Thein Sein in his speech included those enacted regarding revenue, media and foreign investment.

Many of the developments the President spoke of centered on economic growth; the formation of an independent central bank, the relaxing of some US sanctions, and cooperation with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank.

Thein Sein admitted that the practices of corruption and malpractice in the country are difficult to curb immediately; The Irrawaddy reported on Thursday that Transparency International has, for the second year in a row, designated Burma one of the world’s most corrupt countries—ranked 147 out of 168 states.

The outgoing president thanked international governments, organizations, media and citizens who collaborated with his administration. He said that he prays for the new government to build a better country.

Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD), which around 80 percent of contested seats in the November vote, is set to officially assume power in early April.