YANGON, MYANMAR: Myanmar’s President, Mr Thein Sein has told a US newspaper that his country’s democratic reforms are irreversible, as he urged the West to lift sanctions.
He even dangled the possibility of giving the opposition leader, Mr Aung San Suu Kyi a Cabinet post.
“We are on the right track to democracy,” Mr Thein Sein said in the interview with ‘The Washington Post’ published on Friday, his first with Western media. “Because we are on the right track, we can only move forward, and we don’t have any intention to draw back.”
Ms Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy responded to the newspaper report by saying it would be too early for the US and its allies to lift economic sanctions because the reforms aren’t complete yet. It also welcomed the notion of a Cabinet post for Ms Suu Kyi, while saying it was too early to discuss the matter.
Mr Thein Sein’s government took office in March, ending a half century of military rule. Since then, it has rolled out reforms at a pace that has surprised even Myanmar’s staunchest critics.
Mr Thein Sein said he felt his government had met the West’s conditions for lifting sanctions by releasing many political prisoners, scheduling parliamentary elections for April 1 and allowing Ms Suu Kyi among others to participate.
“What is needed from the Western countries is for them to do their part,” he said.
Mr Thein Sein repeatedly called for the lifting of severe economic sanctions that the US, European Union and others imposed while Myanmar was under military rule. He said the sanctions hurt the people of Myanmar much more than the former junta leaders and were holding back the country’s economic progress. The US and European Union have praised the recent reforms but said they will monitor how the April vote is conducted, among other considerations, before revising sanctions. Ms Suu Kyi has said she will personally contest the elections, a historic event that could usher the Nobel laureate and former political prisoner into her first parliamentary seat.
“If the people vote for her, she will be elected and become a Member of Parliament. I am sure that the Parliament will warmly welcome her. This is our plan,” Mr Thein Sein said.
Asked if he would like to see Ms Suu Kyi in his government, Mr Thein Sein replied: “If one has been appointed or agreed on by the Parliament, we will have to accept that she becomes a Cabinet minister.” Mr Nyan Win, the spokesperson for Ms Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy, said it was premature to speak of a Cabinet post but that Suu Kyi “is a very capable leader and she could take any leading position.” He also said it was too early to lift sanctions.
“We acknowledge that reforms have been made in the country and we welcome the reforms. However we don’t consider the reforms complete yet,” Mr Nyan Win said.