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“Today democratisation is in the process of flourishing”, Thein Sein told Parliament as it sat for a second session. In a speech scripted for public relations, words flowed rich with promises that remain to be tested.
In a speech that covered a large amount of ground, certain key areas will be viewed with trepidation such as the President’s assertion that; “we have specially focussed on securing fundamental rights of citizens”, this whilst almost 2,000 political prisoners remain behind bars, including 17 DVB video journalists.
In typically vague fashion the President claimed to have; “fulfilment for public health care and social welfare”, the President’s tenure so far has been characterised by a lack of spending in the healthcare sector, as was the case under his predecessor, Than Shwe. The government spends around 1% of its budget on health care, whilst neighbours spend roughly 10%. With eastern Burma experiencing worse infant mortality than Sudan.
There is as yet meanwhile little sign that Burma’s incredible 26% of GDP spent on the military will change. As the President noted in his speech they would seek to enact the 2008 constitution, which he claimed despite most reports to the contrary; “the entire nation has ratified in unison”, that guarantees the military autonomy and powers above and beyond parliament.
The President furthered his pledge to advance the private sector and economic reforms. Stating that after the recent economic forum the government will be “amending the policies including foreign exchange rate in accord with the constitution and the modern world.”
No indication was given whether the currency would indeed be floated as is the way with the “modern world”.
He further pledged the; “removal of red-tapism,strengthening of market-oriented economic mechanism and development of industries and businesses.”
The President also spoke of a desire to protect the environment, with a promise of an introduction of “environmental conservation laws”. Such a promise will be eagerly anticipated as major infrastructure projects gather pace, which critics say will cause irreparable damage to waterways and ecosystems, such as the damming of the Irrawaddy at Myitsone, in Kachin state.
He continued that; “our government has focused on eco-friendly development with assessment from all aspects,” most critics allege that assessment from anyone other than government approved persons is rare to non-existent, whilst most of the benefits are allegedly monopolised by the government and China.
On foreign policy the President added that; “We are ready to coordinate with the international community to make those who don’t believe these situations believe.” Belief will no doubt be sought with the intended targets; those who will decide whether Burma attains the ASEAN chair in 2014;
“…we are trying to stand tall as a dutiful member of the global family in international and regional organisations. For this reason, we have officially proposed to take the ASEAN chairmanship in 2014.”
Thein Sein concluded with a note of humility stating that the government will have to; “bare the burden of these formidable tasks.”