NAYPYIDAW — Four days prior to the third anniversary of his taking office, Burma President Thein Sein on Wednesday morning credited the military-drafted 2008 Constitution for the political shift in the country under his administration.
During a nearly 45-minute-long speech at Naypyidaw’s Union Parliament, the president also noted, however, that in order to meet democratic standards, the current content of the charter—approved in a widely criticized referendum—must be amended.
The Constitution guarantees the Burmese military a place in national politics and a quarter of seats in Parliament; makes opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi ineligible to become president; and is opposed by ethnic minorities who demand more autonomy in their regions.
“I would like to urge you to do it [constitutional reform] softly and gently, depending on the experience, long-sightedness and sincerity of all stakeholders involved,” he told lawmakers. “[If approached in this way] it will not lead to a political deadlock.”
The general-turned-civilian president also said that the army will retain a role in politics.
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“The army still needs to be present at the political roundtable talks where political problems are solved by political means,” he said. “Reducing the army’s role gradually depends on internal peace and development as well as the maturity of the democracy.”
He also said the Constitution must be reformed bearing in mind political dialogue between the government and Burma’s ethnic armed groups, which is expected to take place after a long-awaited nationwide ceasefire agreement is signed.
“Every amendment has both negative and positive possible consequences, not only at this time but also in the future,” Thein Sein said. “So it’s important to think about [the peace process], too.”
He said he firmly believes that Burma’s more than six-decades-long civil war will come to an end in the near future.
“But, taking a long time on the peace process could make ethnic people feel hopeless,” he warned.
In what amounted to a State of the Union address, the president reviewed his first three years in power. Since his quasi-civilian administration took over from the military junta in 2011, Burma has seen unprecedented political and economic reforms and has reengaged with Western nations after years of isolation.
He trumpeted Burma’s apparent transformation into a constitutionally governed nation that is embraced by countries that once labeled it a backward dictatorship. Plus, he said, his government has worked toward national reconciliation, efforts he described as “satisfactory.”
“It’s very evident that now, three years on, the collaboration from the international community is gaining momentum. We have reached the best and most important time in our country’s history, so we have to value it,” he said.
“Today, everybody can see where the current situation of Burma’s transition to democracy is. We don’t even need to verbally mention it!”
He did admit there had been some failures during his administration, but did not elaborate on these.
Thein Sein thanked the Burmese people as well as the international community for participating in the reform process that he initiated. He said the results could be seen in sectors including education and health, foreign investment, the release of political prisoners, the resolution of land disputes and the peace process.
“We all are responsible for not ruining people’s hope. What we have done for the country during our time in power will be recorded in history,” he said.