Myanmar's outgoing Thein Sein promises to help new government

Myanmar's Commander-in-Chief Min Aung Hlaing (L) shakes hands with National League for Democracy (NLD) party leader Aung San Suu Kyi before their meeting in Naypyitaw December 2, 2015.

MYANMAR - Myanmar President Thein Sein on Thursday called on political parties to work together for the national interest and said he would help the new government of democracy champion Aung San Suu Kyi.

Speaking to lawmakers who served the last five years and whose terms expire on Friday, as well as those chosen in the poll swept by Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy (NLD), Thein Sein outlined the biggest achievements of his five-year term.

The soft-spoken, bespectacled president, who came to power in 2011, stunned the world with an ambitious programme of political and economic change that transformed the impoverished nation of 51.5 million people from pariah state into one of the world's fastest-growing economies.

Thein Sein released political prisoners, scrapped censorship, legalised trade unions and protests, sought peace with ethnic minority insurgents and pushed through legislation on everything from land reform to foreign investment. 

In his last act in power, his administration organised credible elections in November praised by international observers and has worked on the transfer of power to Nobel Peace Prize winner Suu Kyi's government. "As the winning party needs to work for the national interest, the minority parties also need to cooperate and, sometimes, criticize if necessary for the country," said the 70-year-old president whose term expires at the end of March. "Our government will help the new government." While he will likely be remembered for his reform push and transfer of power to pro-democracy activists, Thein Sein's reputation suffers from his role as a close acolyte of former dictator Than Shwe, who during 19 years in power jailed political opponents, killed pro-democracy protesters and commanded a military accused of human rights violations on ethnic minorities.

On Thursday, however, Thein Sein struck a conciliatory tone, explaining his collaboration with his former foes. "I have tried my best for not turning back to the situations in the past - I made the most reasonable decisions in my right and power as the president. We tried to forget personal feelings and worked for the country and the people," said Thein Sein.

The new NLD-dominated parliament, which convenes on Monday, will pick its speakers and other key positions in the chamber before electing president over the next few weeks.

The upper house, the lower house and the military bloc in parliament will put forward one presidential candidate each. The combined houses will vote on the three candidates - the winner will become the president and form a government.

The NLD, which won about 80 percent of all elected seats, has enough votes in the chamber to choose its own president. But Suu Kyi is ineligible because the junta-drafted constitution prevents people with foreign spouses or children from doing so. Suu Kyi has two sons with British citizenship.