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Myanmar's president pledges smooth transition to NLD rule

November 15, 2015

Myanmar's president has called his country's recent elections the result of successful reforms. His statement eases concerns of possible tensions between the military and the winning NLD under Aung Sang Suu Kyi.

The government and eight rebel groups sign a ceasefire in October.
Image: Reuters/Soe Zeya Tun

Myanmar's President Thein Sein on Sunday told a group of political parties in his first appearance since November 8 elections that the reforms of his quasi-civilian government were successful and bolstered the advance of democracy in the country.

"The election is the result of our reform process, and as we promised, we were able to hold it very successfully," Thein Sein said. "We will hand this process (of reform) on to a new government."

The former general, who took off his uniform to become president in 2011, told more than 90 political parties not to worry about the next transition to Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy (NLD). Thein Sein's military-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party lost the election by a landslide.

While vote results are still coming in, the NLD has already secured a majority in both houses of parliament and will be able to choose the next president.

"The winning party is responsible for carrying out its duty, and other opposition parties should provide checks and balances. That is called democracy," Thein Sein said.

The former junta leader's comments bring some relief to those who are concerned about how Suu Kyi will be able to govern in the face of a still politically and economically powerful military.

By law, the military will hold at least 25 percent of the seats in parliament and maintain control over the powerful defense, interior and border ministries.

Suu Kyi's challenge

Suu Kyi's challenge is now to steer the country through political and economic reforms that meet the expectations of 80 percent of the voters who gave her their support. Any reform agenda will ultimately require the army's cooperation.

Suu Kyi will need to balance the vested interests of business and landowners with those of the poor workers and laborers who back her, while keeping an eye on maintaining badly needed foreign investment in the country.

Among the most challenging issues facing the country is ending decades of fighting between the army and more than 20 ethnic rebel groups seeking greater autonomy.

The NLD has vowed to pursue national reconciliation with the roughly 30 percent of the country that is not ethnic Burman.

Eight ethnic armed groups in October signed a cease-fire deal with the government after several years of negotiations, but seven others walked out of the talks. At least six other armed groups are active in the country, from a total of 21. The cease-fire with the eight is to be followed by political talks in January to address ethnic demands.

Since the election, some rebels groups have voiced support for the NLD, but ongoing army skirmishes with other groups present a challenge to advancing national reconciliation.

The army has long justified its political role in the name of preserving national cohesion and fighting rebel groups.

cw/tj (AFP, AP, dpa)