(Mizzima) – In what had the feel of a western-style “state of the union” speech, Burmese President Thein Sein looked back at the past year of dramatic changes and into the future in an address to a joint session of the Burmese Parliament on Thursday.
Among the highlights of his speech, he said:
- Independence was not on the table for minority groups, many of who are now in peace talks with the government.
- He urged the Kachin Independence Organization to enter into peace talks, and said he ordered governments troops not to attack the KIO.
- He promised that reforms would continue but “democratization is in its infancy.”
- He said the country has increased the freedom of the media, and will continue to open up to investment from countries worldwide.
Speaking directly to the Kachin rebel group, he noted that they have sought a political dialogue to try to solve the root problems that have plagued the two sides for decades, and used the phrase “self-determination,” which appears to be a major sticking point in the coming peace talks.
Under the government’s peace plan, Thein Sein said: “The first phase does not cover political discussions. To make the first phase real, both sides need to bear sincere goodwill for peace,” adding that the third stage would involve a conference in Parliament to finalize the peace deals.
Thein Sein, a former commander in chief, said the new government has committed itself to raising living standards, creating jobs, fight corruption and open up to investments by modernizing its financial system.
“There are still many people who doubt and don't believe in our government,” he said, adding: “Before the curious eyes of the world we have paved the way for a new democratic nation.”
He repeated an earlier goal of cutting the poverty rate from 26 to 16 per cent by 2015 and using “all means possible” to fight government corruption, which he called an obstacle to the country’s progress.
A topic that Thein Sein did not address was the removal of economic sanctions by western countries, which observes say will largely depend on the fairness of the upcoming April 1 bi-election, and the release of all political prisoners, which are believed to number several hundred.
“Our country was left behind in the process of globalization, so we need to learn every lesson and make the best of our experience as we open our country to international society," he said. "Our historic transformation is very immense and very delicate.”
The issue of ethnic peace has been a high priority of the government, which has signed preliminary peace deals with 16 ethnic minority rebel armies as part of its three-stage process towards peace.
The government has also bowed to environmentalist and social activists by cancelling two high profile state projects: the Myitsone Dam hydropower project, and a coal-fired power plant in the Dawei deep-sea port project and industrial zone.
The Voice of America quoted several paragraphs in Thein Sein's speech: “To achieve successful transition there are many more steps to be taken. We have to continue to work hard, to increase government capacity, to empower the legislative branch, to strengthen the rule of law, to boost private sector businesses, to empower the civil society, to improve basic and social infrastructure and to improve living standard of the people.” Each of those points are almost carbon copies of changes called for by various opposition political parties, social activists groups and foreign governments during the past year.
In addition, Thein Sein asked for help from all “stakeholders” in Burma's move to democracy: “Help us by trusting each other and cooperation. People need to guide our government in the right direction. I want to urge strongly to all stake holders to be involved in making our society stronger. We, the government, are trying to materialize the reform efforts in a short period. We still cannot fulfill everybody's expectation but we will do our best as promised.”