Comprehending the political reforms in Burma over the past year can be overwhelming. Most observers have welcomed the opening-up of the country by President Thein Sein while others are warning it would be more prudent to wait before dispatching the accolades.
The realities are that if an election was held tomorrow the opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi would win with a landslide while punters would be hard pressed to find anyone who believes Burma’s military, which is unfairly mandated with 25 percent of the seats in parliament, would simply handover power.
The release of political prisoners, who should never have been locked-up in the first place, hardly justifies salivating businessmen eying the country’s potential riches and there are sound reasons behind maintaining sanctions, at least for the time being.
Hardly any mention has been made of trying those responsible for past atrocities, like the 2007 crackdown on the Buddhist clergy. The government’s treatment of the Muslim Rohingya minority is verging on cultural genocide.
Nevertheless, Thein Sein has taken his country into unprecedented territory and in an interview with Anasuya Sanyal of Channel News Asia aired earlier this week, he re-iterated his time as leader will be limited and confirmed he had health issues.
Asked about his legacy and his previous remarks that he will be a one term leader, he said: “My reason for stating that I will only serve one term is because of my age and health condition. I would like to see the next generation take the country to greater political stability and economic prosperity.”
In May, those around him attempted to play down reports that he was ill. He reportedly has a heart condition and has spent time in Singapore where he received a new pacemaker.
This has obvious ramifications for the entire reform agenda within his country.
Thein Sein’s greatest achievement to date has been in legitimizing Aung San Suu Kyi and her political role in Burma, whether opposing factions within the military like it or not. She will have him to thank after the next elections, if the poll and its results go smoothly.
But with elections not due until 2015 and no obvious successor for the current presidency, those eying the potential spoils of a free Burma — whether the pro-business cheer leaders or supporters of genuine democratic reforms — would probably be better off by adopting a more cautious approach.