Myanmar democracy still in ‘infancy’, says junta chief

Saturday, February 12, 2011

NAYPYITAW - Myanmar’s democracy is still in its “infancy” and requires safeguarding by the people, the country’s outgoing junta chief said Saturday.

“The democracy system introduced to Myanmar is still in its infancy,” Senior General Than Shwe said in a speech marking the 64th anniversary of Union Day, when Myanmar’s various ethnic groups agreed to unite against British rule.

“It requires the entire nation to safeguard and build the newly introduced democracy system,” Than Shwe said.

Than Shwe, 78, who has headed Myanmar’s junta - the so-called State Peace and Development Council - since 1992, is expected to retire from his military posts soon, sources said.

He has almost completed his seven-step roadmap to “disciplined democracy,” having pushed through a new constitution that cements military rule over all future elected governments, and held a general election on Nov 7, which was won by the pro-junta Union Solidarity and Development Party.

The first session of Parliament earlier this month elected former prime minister Thein Sein as the new president, empowering him to nominate the next cabinet.

Of Thein Sein’s 30 chosen ministers, only four were from civilian backgrounds and none were women.

Than Shwe’s public appearance at Union Day was expected to be one of his last as junta head and commander-in-chief, sources said.

Than Shwe is expected to retire from his military posts within two weeks, US-based Myanmar expert Win Min said. He is likely to be replaced by Min Aung Hlaing, the current army chief of ataff, as the next commander, sources said.

In Yangon, also marking Union Day, opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi said that national unity depends on law and order and an inclusive political system.

“The foundation of unity is based on the prevalence of law and order,” Suu Kyi told her National League for Democracy (NLD) in Yangon. “A wide political field is necessary for unity. Too narrow a political field may hinder the way of unity”.

Suu Kyi and her NLD party did not participate in the Nov 7 polls because of military-passed legislation that would have forced the party to drop her as a member in order to contest.

The Nobel laureate was under house detention until Nov 13, six days after the polls.

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