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June 19, 2012

Burma President Promises 'Second Wave' of Reforms

by VOA News

Burmese President Thein Sein has promised what he calls a "second wave of reforms" aimed at developing the impoverished country's long-stagnant economy.

Since taking office last year, the former army general has already presided over several political reforms, including the release of hundreds of political prisoners and allowing opposition groups back into politics.

He said in a televised speech Tuesday that the second stage of reforms could include a law on foreign direct investment, which he said would be passed in an upcoming session of parliament.

"In the first year of power, the national government has been speedily working on political reforms and national reconciliation," he said. "From this year onwards, we are working on a second wave of reforms which will focus especially on the development of the country and the public."

The president also hinted at loosening government control of several key industries, in part through the creation of a "privatization commission" that aims to increase private sector involvement. In addition, he said the government is working on laws on industrial zones and a minimum wage.

But he said the government would need international aid and investment to help achieve its goals, which include boosting economic growth by 7.7 percent annually over the next five years.

The speech comes as Burmese democracy icon, Aung San Suu Kyi, continues her 17-day tour of Europe, drawing attention to both the progress and shortcomings of Burma's reforms since military rulers ceded power last year.

Monique Skidmore, a Burma analyst at the University of Canberra, says it is a good sign that President Thein Sein has chosen to make his speech during Aung San Suu Kyi's trip abroad.

"It's great that he's using Aung San Suu Kyi's visit as a way of drawing attention to Burma and then making clear that their goal here is not just the end of sanctions, which he has largely achieved, but now significant investment in Burma's economy. And so it's great that he's wanting to capitalize on Aung San Suu Kyi's popularity and the ability of people to focus on Burma now through their engagement with her," said Skidmore.

There were some concerns earlier this month of a developing political rivalry between the two leaders, after President Thein Sein abruptly cancelled an appearance at a Bangkok economic forum that both were scheduled to attend. Aung San Suu Kyi's visit to Thailand represented the first time the hugely popular Nobel Peace Prize winner ventured outside Burma after spending most of the last two decades under house arrest.

Some information for this report was provided by AFP and Reuters.