Burmese President Thein Sein predicted Friday that his ruling military-backed party will face a "neck-and-neck" fight from opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy (NLD) in crucial 2015 elections.
He said that unlike the 2010 polls, when his Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) swept nearly 80 percent or 883 seats out of the 1,154 electoral seats that were up for grabs, the elections in three years' time will be very different.
"Back in 2010, USDP hardly had a rival as it was the strongest one," Thein Sein told RFA's Burmese service on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly in New York which he is attending.
"It [USDP] has been organizing for many years, and had a good foundation then. But later, the NLD came in and it also has certain amount of supporters. So in 2015, both have to compete neck-and-neck and have to try hard, that's what I see," the former military general said.
The NLD had boycotted the 2010 elections called by the then ruling military junta and the party was legally banned as a result.
Although the polls were seen as unfair by human rights groups, they ushered in a nominally civilian government led by Thein Sein, who launched a reform process that encouraged Western governments to lift long-running sanctions on the once-pariah state.
Thein Sein also allowed the NLD to reregister itself, paving the way for the party to contest in April 2012 elections for the first time since 1990, when the NLD's poll victory was not recognized by the military rulers then.
The NLD swept 43 of the 44 seats up for grabs in April by-elections, becoming the biggest opposition party in the military-dominated parliament.
Four of the seats captured by the NLD were in Naypyidaw, the country's capital and bastion of the military and government.
Political pundits say the next election in 2015 will be crucial as it will determine whether the powerful military will accept a win by the NLD.
At present, 25 percent of parliamentary seats are reserved for active-duty military officers. Together, the military and the USDP control more than 80 percent of the seats.
On Thursday, Thein Sein said in reply to a question at a forum that he may consider serving another term in office if the country and people want him to do so.
"If I have my way, I will only serve one term,” said the 67-year-old leader, who assumed office for a five-year term beginning March 2011.
“But of course the future of the position depends on the needs of country and the wishes of the people,” he said in response to a question from the floor at a forum hosted by the New York-based Asia Society.
It was believed to be his first direct response to a question on his future since he came to power under a nominally civilian government replacing decades of brutal military rule.
Reported by Thin Thiri of RFA's Burmese service. Translation by Khin May Zaw. Written in English by Parameswaran Ponnudurai.