That on Friday Myanmar President Thein Sein opened unprecedented talks with the army top brass and political rivals including Aung San Suu Kyi bodes well for the people of that country and its fellow members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean).
President Thein Sein’s move came after US President Barack Obama called for “inclusive and credible” elections next year. Myanmar has had many decades of disastrous military rule, which made it one of the world’s human-rights abuse capitals.
Thein Sein and Suu Kyi walked into the meeting together to begin extraordinary discussions in the capital Naypyidaw ahead of the 2015 polls, which are viewed as a key test of democratic reforms under the quasi-civilian government.
After the meeting, Myanmar’s members of parliament said they will consider amending the country’s Constitution, which currently bars opposition leader Suu Kyi from becoming president.
Suu Kyi is trying to change key sections of Myanmar’s constitution ahead of the 2015 polls that are widely expected to be won by her National League for Democracy (NLD) – if the elections are free and fair. A change in Myanmar’s Constitution needs a vote of 75 percent of the members of parliament.
As it is now, Suu Kyi cannot run for president because of a provision in Myanmar’s 2008 constitution prohibiting an individual from running in the polls if his or her spouse or children are aliens. This prevents spouses or parents of non-citizens from leading the country. Suu Kyi’s late husband was British and her children hold British passports.
Of the Southeast Asian countries that are considered “backwater” states, perhaps Myanmar has the most potential to become an emerging economy. With a population of approximately 53 million, the country is in dire need of improvements in its utility services and lacks many modern basic needs. Myanmar can become an investor’s haven. In fact, Philippine businesses have taken note. The Ayalas and the Manny Pangilinan group have already set foot in the country that used to be called Burma.
As an Asean member, a Myanmar whose economic growth will be propelled by a civilian government elected in credible polls will boost the region’s growth and prestige as a global engine of growth. This will make most of the peoples of Asean more prosperous, including, we hope and pray, us Filipinos.
China has invested many billions in Myanmar’s most basic needs to the point of possibly making the latter a virtual economic and political dependency. When it recently hosted and chaired the annual Asean Summit, it kowtowed to China and ignored the desire of the majority of Asean members to discuss the issue of maritime and territorial disputes.
A credible democratic election next year would not make Myanmar any less attractive to purely for profit and strategic investors like China. But it would advance the Burmese people’s human development.