- Myanmar President Thein Sein, who led the reform process in the past two
years, will not run for a second mandate in 2015, this according to Shwe Mann,
speaker of the lower house and head of the ruling Union Solidarity and
Development Party (USDP). His likely adversary will be Aung San Suu Kyi. Like her,
Mann wants the constitution amended to allow the country's main opposition
leader to run.
With Thein Sein's
not seeking re-election, Speaker Mann said that a period of four years will
come to a close. During this time, Myanmar pursued a more open foreign policy, tentatively
adopted democratic and economic reforms, released many (but not all) political
prisoners and sought peace with the country's ethnic minorities. Because of these
changes, most US and European trade and diplomatic sanctions have been lifted.
In addition to announcing
his retirement, the 68-year-old outgoing president said that he would not
oppose an Aung San Suu Kyi candidacy. At the same time, his decision not to run
again opens the way for Shwe Mann, one of three top generals. Although he is now
"regarded as a moderate with reformist credentials", he is still well connected
with the military.
Last May, Mann took
over from Thein Sein as USDP leader. For the first time, he expressed support
for amendments to the constitution to allow Aung San Suu Kyi to run for
president. "For free and fair elections in 2015," he said, "we should amend
Section 59F of the Constitution".
In an interview
with The Irrawaddy Magazine, a dissident publication, he
showed a softer side, like that of a well-oiled politician rather than a once
Touted to be General
Than Shwe's pick for the 2011 elections, he became instead the speaker of
Myanmar's lower house of parliament, where he honed his political skills,
becoming a patient and shrewd leader, playing a major role on the national
scene, with good connections among top military brass but also open to Aung San
expressed optimism that the country's controversial 2008 Constitution could be
amended, he agrees with Suu Kyi that it is one of the world's most difficult
national charters to change.
More recently, Shwe
Mann has openly criticised President Sein's performance (and that of his
government) on a number of occasions, but he has never questioned their
Whilst pushing for
faster reforms, he has expressed doubts about a quick peace with all of the
country's ethnic minorities, blaming their leaders for putting their own
interests ahead of those of their people.
In 2015, Myanmar
will elect a new parliament, which will in turn elect a new president replacing
Thein Sein, a former general who served as prime minister at the time of the
Burmese military junta.
After decades of
dictatorship, the country held its first (partially free) elections in 2011, followed
by a series of by-elections in 2012. National League for Democracy (NLD) Aung
San Suu Kyi, leader, who spent 15 of the previous 22 years under house arrest,
was one of those elected on that occasion.
Aung San Suu Kyi
said on several occasions that she would run for president, even though existing
rules bar her.
A recently appointed
109-member parliamentary committee has been tasked with amending the 2008 constitution
(adopted at the height of Cyclone Nargis).
A new charter
could grant ethnic minorities greater autonomy in the respective states (Kachin,
Karen, Shan, Chin, etc),
observers noted that the process of change so far has been slow. For Aung San
Suu Kyi, without constitutional reform before 2015, an unfair election could
result in a "fake democracy."