President Thein Sein has not ruled out a second term in office when Myanmar holds national elections later this year, an official from his office said Tuesday, reversing earlier reports that he would not run again because of health issues.
Major Zaw Htay, director of the president's office, told RFA’s Myanmar Service that Thein Sein told Japan’s NHK earlier this month when he was in the country for the Japan-Mekong Summit that he was open to running for a second term as president, depending on the country’s condition and the wishes of the people.
But Zaw Htay noted that the elections would be held to vote for members of parliament (MPs), not to directly elect a president.
“When we talk about electing a president, we have to think about the country’s system of electing a president,” he said. “The 2015 election is to elect parliamentary representatives, not a president.
“When elected representatives enter parliament, one vice-president will be elected by the lower house, one will be elected by the upper house, and one will be elected by military MPs. The president will be elected from these three candidates (vice-presidents) at the Union parliament.”
Reports that Thein Sein, 70, would not seek a second term appeared in both the Myanmar media as well as foreign media after an official said Monday that the president indicated he would not stand for office again in a letter he wrote Shwe Mann, the country’s influential parliamentary speaker and chairman of the ruling Union party.
By way of explanation about the confusion as to whether Thein Sein would pursue a second five-year term as president, Union lawmaker Tin Maung Oo said some party leaders who work as administrative officials have grown apart from the party.
“To tell the name of candidates in the USDP, we have to hold a conference first,” he said. “Then one candidate who can work well for the country will be elected after the conference.”
Where Myanmar is headed
The elections on Nov. 8 will largely been seen as an indication of where Myanmar is headed in its transformation from an authoritarian nation to a democratic one.
Political observers have already predicted that the opposition National League for Democracy (NLD) will win the elections, taking the majority of parliamentary seats away from the Union party, largely comprised of former military officers.
Prior to taking office in March 2011, Thein Sein had served as a military general and prime minister from 2007 to 2011 during the final years of the junta government.
But other lawmakers from the Union party are uncertain as to whether Thein Sein would stand for office again
“I think the president will let someone else run for the presidency because he has already done something to build a democratic country,” said Union lawmaker Hla Shwe. “If he wants to run for the next presidential term, parliament will welcome him. It’s possible that he can win a second presidential term if he wants to compete, and he knows that.”
Myanmar citizens have mixed views on whether Thein Sein would—or should—run for a second term.
A housewife named Juu Juu told RFA that Thein Sein should clearly state whether he will seek another term, but said she was throwing her support behind Aung San Suu Kyi.
“People don’t know who they have to listen to and what they have to believe,” she said about the current political situation in Myanmar. “The politics in the country is getting dirtier as it gets closer to the election. This election is very important to us.
“I want Mother Suu [Aung San Suu Kyi] to be president because I think our country’s society, education and business would be further developed if she became president,” she said. “The poverty in the country would get better as well.”
Aung San Suu Kyi, however, is barred from becoming president because her two children are British citizens, as was her late husband. Hopes that this would change were dashed last month when parliament voted down a constitutional amendment which would have allowed people with foreign family members to become president.
'Very important time'
A poet who gave his name as Mon said both the Union and NLD parties should state who their presidential candidates are.
“This is a very important time in our country,” he said. “This is the time when the president should decide if he will run for a second term or not.”
He noted a “conflict” between Thein Sein and parliamentary speaker Shwe Mann, who had supported recent efforts to change the military-dominated constitution. Shwe Mann had told RFA in June that he would seek the presidency.
Former university professor Tun Lwin said the forecast that the NLD would win the upcoming elections may be preventing the Union party from naming any prospective presidential candidates.
“In this case, it is a question of whether the Union members are confident or not about the elections,” he said. “That’s why they haven’t spoken out clearly and are doing it in a roundabout way.”
“In this situation, we want Shwe Mann to become president because he is close to Aung San Suu Kyi,” Tun Lwin said. “We don’t want Thein Sein as the president again.”
Reported by Wai Mar Tun, Thinn Thiri, Khet Mar and Khin Khin Ei for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.