UN chief Ban Ki-moon has said the appointment of incumbent Burmese prime minister Thein Sein as the country’s new president is an “important step”.
In a guarded statement, the Secretary General said he also hoped that the new parliament, which has been mired in controversy, “marks the beginning of a change in the status quo” of Burma.
It added that “The United Nations stands ready to work with the new Government and all other stakeholders in Myanmar [Burma] towards greater democratisation, development and stability”.
But the parliamentary process has received widespread criticism, in main due to the fact that the majority of top positions, including president and one vice president, have been won by retired military generals.
Moreover, speaker and chairman positions in the three parliaments were taken up by either former junta officials or by members of the junta-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), as have the majority of seats in parliament.
Many observers say the process leading up to elections late last year was undemocratic, with laws released that appeared designed to sideline opposition parties reinforcing a highly questionable constitution.
Whether the UN’s pledge for inclusive engagement includes opposition forces such as ethnic armies or authorities who do not recognise the government is unclear. It has long had difficulty influencing the Burmese junta, with Ban himself admitting in the past that the military had been “unresponsive” to his approaches.
The UN’s inability to affect change in Burma has come under repeated fire, most notably during the tenure of former special rapporteur Ibrahim Gambari, who started his political career in Nigeria’s military government. Gambiri was repeatedly snubbed by the generals, and his departure last year was welcomed by observers.
Ban Ki-moon has also been no stranger to criticism: during his posting as South Korean foreign minister he described the controversial Shwe gas pipeline as a “win win” project for the Burmese military and the South Korean government, consequently drawing the ire of Burmese and international rights campaigners who claim it has led to egregious human rights violations.
A leaked memo last year from the UN’s former anti-corruption chief Inga-Britt Ahlenius also described his secretariat is in a “process of decay” and questioned the UN’s “capacity to protect civilians in conflict and distress” in countries such as Burma.