ShareThis Page

Questions about Burma's future

| Saturday, May 25, 2013, 9:00 p.m.

WASHINGTON

President Thein Sein of Burma, the former general who President Barack Obama hopes is leading a transition from dictatorship to democracy, is not an imposing figure. The longer you talk with him, the less imposing he seems.

That, at least, was my impression after interviewing him for about 45 minutes Sunday, along with The Washington Post's Anne Gearan.

We tried to find out whether the president believes the clause the junta inserted into the constitution effectively barring Aung San Suu Kyi, the leader of democracy forces in Burma, from the presidency should remain in effect:

Q: Do you think the constitution should be changed to remove the provision that would exclude Aung San Suu Kyi from serving as president?

A: With regard to the amendment of the constitution, there are provisions within the constitution for the amendment of the constitution. For the constitution to be amended, it needs to be discussed among the elected members of parliament. Secondly, the constitution that was adopted by the people needs the approval of the people to be amended.

Q. Yes, but I was asking your opinion. Do you think it should be amended?

A. My personal view is that the constitution can be changed. There is a process in the constitution for the amendment of the constitution, so I do not have a say.

Q. But your opinion does matter?

A. Actually, the amendment of the constitution is not directly related to the executive branch. It is within parliament. But I am myself a citizen of the constitution, so I am also related to the amendment of the constitution.

Q. So do you have an opinion about whether Aung San Suu Kyi should be allowed to run for president?

A. It is a normal process that Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and her party can contest the upcoming parliamentary election.

Q. But as of now she would not be eligible to be president. Do you think that is correct or should it be changed?

A. As I said earlier, the amendment of the constitution depends on the members of parliament, and secondly will depend on the will of the people, because for the amendment we need the approval of the people.

There's an important riddle in Thein Sein's circuitous answers on this and other topics.

Western officials hope that Thein Sein, who has been in power for about two years, is bravely negotiating a treacherous path from the repressive regime he was once part of to a society in which people can choose their leaders. Along the way, they believe, he has to battle hardliners who oppose change; corrupt businessmen and generals who fear exposure; reform advocates who might push too hard, too fast; ethnic and religious conflict; and rising expectations among citizens who believe political reform should quickly lead to economic improvement.

If so, his circumspection might be a clever tactic to keep everyone on board as reforms move forward. Alternatively, it could be an indication that the generals remain firmly in control and that Thein Sein is not free to express a view that might offend them.

Or it might be that he hopes the reform path can stop somewhere short of true democracy.

It's impossible to tell from a 45-minute interview. But it is possible to walk out feeling less than reassured.

Fred Hiatt is editorial page editor of The Washington Post.

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.