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Guest post by Henry Jackson Society Research Assistant Emma Pike
Last week’s re-appointment of president Thein Sein as head of Burma’s ruling USDP party raises a number of questions about Burma’s future trajectory. Some party members have lost confidence in Thein Sein’s capabilities as leader, and his reinstatement begs the question of how long the USDP will be able to hold on to power.
At an unprecedented press conference with the country’s national media on the 21st of October, Thein Sein’s responses left journalists none the wiser as to how the USDP plans to bolster its falling numbers of supporters, nor, crucially, how the government plans to manage Burma’s long-term economic and political development.
Aung San Suu Kyi, leader of the opposition NLD party and long-time heroine to western politicians and media, has been as evasive as Thein Sein when probed on the detail of Burma’s political reforms. Interviewers are often given recycled platitudes on democracy and human rights, which—while inspiring during her long house arrest—are less persuasive now that she is in a position of power.
Key questions remain unanswered by both parties, namely: What is their timescale for constitutional reform? Where is their detailed new economic policy? Why do human rights abuses continue on Burma’s borders? And, crucially, how will they bring about the ethnic cohesion that is integral to Burma’s future as a unified nation?
Suu Kyi’s supporters say that she is treading carefully, as are Thein Sein and the USDP. Both sides are looking ahead to the 2015 election that will define Burma’s political landscape for years to come, and neither party wants to alienate voters by delivering unpopular policies or unrealistic timeframes for change.
But if the NLD stays silent for too long on critical issues, it risks losing the support of its loyal base, both at home and abroad. It is time for Burma’s leaders to answer tough questions and give more substance to their plans for democratisation.