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Myanmar 'wants prosperity too', says minister

Publication Date : 27-09-2012


Myanmar embarked on its current path of reform because it saw that countries with a market-oriented, democratic system did well, a senior Myanmar official has said.

Lower House Speaker Thura Shwe Mann, who is seen as a key driver of the country's recent reforms, said in an interview yesterday: "We have learnt that those countries that practise democratic systems prosper. We would like to see prosperity take place in Myanmar too."

Shwe Mann, 65, was the third most powerful man in the military junta that ran Myanmar up till its 2010 elections. Since then, he has shed his military uniform to take up a key role in its fledgling Parliament, and is reported to be a contender for the presidency in the next elections in 2015.

He spoke to The Straits Times on the last day of his four-day official visit to Singapore.

Myanmar has gradually freed up its political and economic environment over the past two years, ending media censorship and making peace with longtime political prisoner Aung San Suu Kyi, who is now a parliamentarian in its Lower House.

These sweeping changes have prompted the international community to roll back crippling sanctions on the impoverished country of 54 million.

Its Parliament was recently in the news after legislators voted to impeach the country's constitutional tribunal for ruling that the Parliament and its committees did not have the legal status of "national bodies".

When asked about the judiciary's role in Myanmar's reforms, Shwe Mann said the country's executive, judicial and legislative bodies acted independently and differences between them are normal as the country is still in its early stage of reform.

"I believe this is something normal in a country where you have a democratic system," he said. "If there is only a single voice, then it may lead to authoritarian rule."

He noted that the ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party is working closely with the opposition, including Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy (NLD).

He added that the NLD is highly regarded, and Suu Kyi, who has "great qualities", was recently put in charge of a panel to ensure that parliamentarians, judicial bodies and other sectors abide by the law.

"She has accepted the responsibility of this committee and she is actively engaging with the committee," he said.

The democracy icon, who carries much clout in the West, earlier this month lent her weight to calls for the United States to end remaining sanctions on her country.

Meanwhile, Shwe Mann said the role of the military - which, under the Constitution, is guaranteed a quarter of all seats in Parliament - may also change according to the wishes of Myanmar's people.

He said: "(Be it) the Constitution or the existing laws in our country, it doesn't mean that they have to last forever. Based on the situation, they may have to change."

The Parliament is also open to comments and criticism from the media, he added.

On a different topic, Shwe Mann assured potential investors that the country's much-anticipated Foreign Investment Law, the subject of a protracted tussle between protectionist and pro-reform elements in its Parliament, will be enacted by the end of the year. The law is critical to attracting foreign investors.


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