Editorial Notes

Thein Sein isn't ready for Myanmar vote: The Nation

Myanmar's President Thein Sein attend a meeting with ethnic armed groups leaders on Sept 9, 2015.
Myanmar's President Thein Sein attend a meeting with ethnic armed groups leaders on Sept 9, 2015. PHOTO: EPA

In its editorial on Sept 22, 2015, the newspaper says that six weeks before the election, Myanmar is nowhere near a resolution with its ethnic minority or Muslim majority

Overall, Myanmar's President Thein Sein has done a relatively good job since shedding his general's uniform in 2011 to rule as a civilian.

But his administration's shortcomings are plain for all to see as Thailand's western neighbour rolls forward to general elections on Nov 8.

There remain serious issues that must be addressed if the Burmese interpretation of stability is to be maintained.

Thein Sein has overseen a general relaxation of political tensions and the launch of much-needed social and economic reforms, moving Myanmar forward to the stage where foreign investors are willing to pour money in.

Parliament, though still dominated by the military, is at last open to rival claimants to authority, including opposition firebrand Aung San Suu Kyi and her National League for Democracy (NLD).

Most, though not all, of the armed ethnic groups are engaging in peace talks with the government.

However, not only is the president's mission far from accomplished, there are matters in urgent need of attention.

Whether he wins a second term or not, Thein Sein should be laying down a strong foundation right now for the future development in his nation.


First, he needs to clean his own house.

The ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) has undergone an internal power struggle that saw its leader, Shwe Mann, ignobly unseated in August.

The undemocratic methods by which the party chief was forced out bode ill for the entire country's political credibility, and the international community is watching closely. US Assistant Secretary of State Daniel Russel said the purge of Shwe Mann was a reminder of the "bad old days" of military dictatorship.

"The government and the ruling party have to act in a way that reinforces, not undermines, public confidence in the government's commitment to democratic processes," Russel said.

Secondly, a restrictive measure in Myanmar's current constitution bars Nobel laureate Suu Kyi from assuming the president's post whether her party wins this or any national election.

Candidates cannot have family members who hold foreign citizenship. A bid to amend the charter was crushed in parliament under the weight of military votes, an outcome hardly reflective of her popularity, which far outstrips that of the USDP.

Should the NLD win in the November polls, we might well see a repeat of what happened in 1990, when the ruling elite - the military then as now - rejected her victory and refused to yield power.

Thirdly, peace negotiations with ethnic groups that have battled the military for more than half a century still exclude some factions.

Thein Sein was hopeful of a nationwide ceasefire agreement when he met the groups' representatives earlier this month in Nay Pyi Taw, and yet armed clashes continue to take place, most notably in Shan State.

The world waits to learn whether it's true that the military continues to wage war in some ethnic areas, killing innocent civilians in the process, as claimed by the Restoration Council of Shan State/Shan State Army.

If so, the allegation stands that the government is smothering the people's right to participate in the November election - or in any other political activity for that matter. And of course it undermines peace efforts elsewhere.

Fourthly, and of equally grave concern, Muslims make up the majority of the at least 100 would-be candidates who have been disqualified from running in the election, while, in March, citizenship documents were "temporally" revoked for hundreds of thousands of Muslim Rohingya.

The anti-Muslim sentiment that has erupted in communal violence is the excuse offered for this travesty of justice, but the authorities should realise that the election could instead represent an opportunity to reconcile such social divisions.

Thein Sein has little time left to defuse this multi-chambered time bomb.