Myanmar's reformist President Thein Sein will not seek a second term in office, the country's powerful parliamentary speaker Shwe Mann said Thursday.
Shwe Mann, who has declared his intention to bid for the post in the 2015 elections, also said that the constitution should be amended to pave the way for opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi to contest for the presidency as well.
"President U [honorific] Thein Sein has told me he will not run for president," he told a news conference in the country's capital Naypyidaw. "I think he meant what he said. He is not running in the election [in 2015]."
This is the clearest indication yet that Thein Sein, who took over in March 2011, will retire after his first term of office in 2015.
In July, during a visit to France, Thein Sein said he was not preparing to run in elections in 2015 and that he would not oppose Aung San Suu Kyi vying for the top post.
“As of now, I have not prepared myself to run in the upcoming 2015 presidential election,” Thein Sein said then.
The 68-year-old Thein Sein had previously said he would prefer not to run although it “depends on the needs of country and the wishes of the people.”
The former military leader has implemented a series of political, economic, and other reforms since taking power, resulting in the removal of long-running international sanctions, including from the United States.
There are no direct presidential elections in Myanmar. The president will come from the party that wins the general elections.
Shwe Mann, who took over in May from Thein Sein as leader of the ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), also said clearly for the first time that he would back amendments to the constitution to pave the way for Aung San Suu Kyi to make a bid for the presidency.
“For free and fair elections in 2015, I have to say we should amend Section 59F of the Constitution,” he said, referring to a provision in the charter, written during the military junta regime, blocking anyone whose spouse or children are foreign citizens from becoming president.
Aung San Suu Kyi's two sons with her late British husband hold British citizenship, and the provision is widely believed to be targeted at her.
The Nobel laureate has said she would seek the president's post if her popular party wins the 2015 elections.
Myanmar's parliament is still dominated by the USDP and military members. A constitutional amendment requires at least 75 percent approval in parliament before it is put to a national referendum.
But together, the military and the USDP control more than 80 percent of legislative seats.
'The crucial issue at the moment is to make amendments to the constitution," Aung San Suu Kyi said on Wednesday during a visit to London.
'If the process of democratization is to move forward, if it is to be sustainable, we have to amend the constitution to make it a democratic one, one that will ensure that the future of our society is going to be rooted in genuine democratic institutions," she said.
A 109-member parliamentary review committee has been set up to examine amendment proposals, including calls to allow ethnic states greater autonomy.
Although Myanmar's ruling party officials have mostly expressed support for constitutional amendments, with elections just two years away, some observers say the process for change so far has been slow.
Aung San Suu Kyi had said that without constitutional reform before the 2015 polls, an unfair election could result in a “fake democracy.”
Reported by Win Naung Toe, Myo Thant Khine and Kyaw Thu for RFA's Myanmar Service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Parameswaran Ponnudurai.