Thein Sein will help Suu Kyi's government

President Thein Sein arriving in Parliament yesterday. The new MPs fromMs Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy will take their seats in Parliament on Feb 1.
President Thein Sein arriving in Parliament yesterday. The new MPs fromMs Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy will take their seats in Parliament on Feb 1.PHOTO: REUTERS

He urges parties to work together; House okays Bill shielding ex-presidents from prosecution

NAYPYITAW • Myanmar President Thein Sein yesterday called on political parties to work together for the national interest and said he would help the new government of democracy champion Aung San Suu Kyi.

Speaking to lawmakers who served the last five years and whose terms expire today, as well as those chosen in the polls swept by Ms Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy (NLD), Mr Thein Sein outlined the biggest achievements of his five-year term.

The soft-spoken, bespectacled President, who came to power in 2011, stunned the world with an ambitious programme of political and economic change that transformed the impoverished nation of 51.5 million people from a pariah state into one of the world's fastest-growing economies.

Mr Thein Sein released political prisoners, scrapped censorship, legalised trade unions and protests, sought peace with ethnic minority insurgents and pushed through legislation on everything from land reform to foreign investment.

 

In his last act in power, his administration organised credible elections last November that were praised by international observers, and has worked on the transfer of power to Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi's government.

"As the winning party needs to work for the national interest, the minority parties also need to cooperate, and sometimes criticise if necessary for the country," said the 70-year-old President, whose term expires at the end of March.

"Our government will help the new government," he added.

While he will likely be remembered for his reform push and transfer of power to pro-democracy activists, Mr Thein Sein's reputation suffers from his role as a close acolyte of former dictator Than Shwe who, during his 19 years in power, jailed political opponents, ordered the killing of pro-democracy protesters and commanded a military accused of human rights violations against ethnic minorities.

Yesterday, however, Mr Thein Sein struck a conciliatory tone, explaining his collaboration with his former foes.

"I have tried my best to not turn back to the situations in the past - I made the most reasonable decisions in my right and power as the President. We tried to forget personal feelings and worked for the country and the people," he said.

The new NLD MPs, many of whom are political novices, will take their seats on Feb 1 following the final day of a lame-duck session by the outgoing Parliament today.

A flurry of political plays have dominated the days leading up to the handover, leaving analysts struggling to decipher their meaning in a country where decision-making has long been made in secret.

Parliament yesterday approved a controversial Bill that shields former presidents from prosecution for acts during their term in office and granting them indefinite bodyguard protection.

REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 29, 2016, with the headline 'Thein Sein will help Suu Kyi's government'. Print Edition | Subscribe