Myanmar army to carry on key transition role

Mar 20, 2015, 2:03 AM EDT
Myanmar's President Thein Sein inspects a ceremonial guard of honour during a welcome ceremony at the Parliament in Kuala Lumpur on March 12, 2015.
AFP/Getty Images

Myanmar's army will continue to play a key role in the move towards greater democracy, the president has said.

Speaking to the BBC in the capital Nay Pyi Taw, Thein Sein said the military had initiated reforms but he put no timeframe on reducing its dominant role in Burmese political life.

Thein Sein's four years in office have seen significant changes but the army's power remains untouched. The military still occupies a quarter of the seats in parliament. It also has a veto over constitutional change and the right to seize power outright at any time.

"It's not true that reforms have stalled because of the military," he said. "The Tatmadaw [Burmese army] does not get involved with political parties and is only concerned with the national interest."

The opposition National League for Democracy party, led by Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, has called for the military to step away from politics, writes Reuters.

 Parliamentary elections are scheduled for early November, and the parliament that emerges from the vote will choose the next president.

Suu Kyi's party swept a 1990 vote that the ruling generals ignored, and she remains hugely popular but the military-drafted constitution bars her from the presidency because she has two sons with British citizenship. Her late husband was a British academic.

Thein Sein denied that the clause was written in order to exclude Suu Kyi from the presidency, and said the requirement was actually drafted in 1947 when the country, also known as Burma, was preparing for independence from Britain.

Thien Sein said he was not opposed to changing the constitution, but said it would be up to parliament to support an amendment, which would then require a referendum.