HANOI, Oct 28: Myanmar's top leader Gen. Than Shwe will bow out of national elections next month, but his role in the country's political future remains unclear, a Southeast Asian diplomat said Thursday.
The diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity on the sidelines of an Asian summit in Vietnam, said Myanmar Foreign Minister Nyan Win told his counterparts that the longtime leader of the military-run country will not be on the ballot during the country's first elections in two decades on Nov. 7.
"He will bow out of the scene," the diplomat said, citing what the Myanmar official said at an informal dinner Wednesday for delegates attending a summit for the Association of Southeast Asian Nations. "He will not be a candidate in the upcoming elections."
It was the first time the reclusive government confirmed that Than Shwe would not participate in the national polls. However, it was earlier believed that he would not run because his name did not appear on the candidates' list.
Than Shwe has never spoken about his future and no officials have ever broached the issue of his retirement or whether he would run in elections. He is widely expected to have some new role and title after elections. Many think he could become the next president, which is not an elected position
Reclusive Myanmar put on a fresh face at an Asian conference in Hanoi, unveiling a redesigned flag and new national name less than two weeks before the long-awaited polling. But many fear the makeover is merely a facade to mask an election already being dubbed a sham.
The elections are supposed to be a big step forward in the country's so-called roadmap to democracy following five decades of military rule. But critics say the junta has already taken steps to block transparency and ensure that the military remains in power by repressing the country's main opposition party and limiting campaigning.
Democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi, who's been imprisoned or under house arrest for 15 of the past 21 years, is expected to be up for release on Nov. 13, just six days
after the election. But Philippine Foreign Secretary Alberto Romulo said her fate still remains uncertain.
"We all pressed him to release Aung San Suu Kyi, but he was noncommittal," he said, adding that Myanmar Foreign Minister Nyan Win agreed to follow the country's laws.
"I am skeptical about that," Romulo said he told Nyan Win. "She has been sentenced and after that she is re-sentenced again with another, so there's no end to it."
Suu Kyi's party is boycotting the elections as undemocratic after winning a landslide victory in 1990 that was dismissed by the military leaders.
That leaves the key junta-backed party as the only strong contender to win the upcoming contest. AP