Myanmar president vows 'healthy democracy'

Myanmar's president Monday pledged to establish a "healthy democracy" after nearly half a century of iron-fisted military rule as he sought Singapore's help to modernise the creaking economy. President Thein Sein, in Singapore for a four-day state visit, also appealed to the global community to continue encouraging Myanmar on its reform path, saying the transition period was fraught with challenges. "The international community should render its support and encouragement to our effort to meet our objectives because a young democratic nation has emerged on this planet," Thein Sein told a lavish state dinner held in his honour. "We have turned a new page in our country in order to create better conditions in Myanmar. We want to give a brighter future for our people. "We want our people to take part in the democratic reform process and we want democracy to thrive in Myanmar. I wish to assure you that I shall endeavour to establish a healthy democracy in Myanmar." The ex-general and former member of Myanmar's feared junta added that "since we are on the right track to democracy we shall overcome these challenges with great care and proceed ahead till we reach our goals". Thein Sein was appointed president in February last year after November 2010 elections that have ushered in reforms in Myanmar that have surprised international observers, though the West is demanding more still be done. Earlier Monday, Thein Sein met Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and the pair witnessed the signing by their foreign ministers of an agreement under which Singapore will provide training for reforms in the legal, banking and financial sectors. The pact also calls on Singapore to share its best practices in trade, tourism and urban planning. Resource-rich but largely untapped Myanmar in return offers attractive opportunities for Singapore businesses. Thein Sein was accompanied by a top-level delegation which included business leaders and top ministers in charge of economic portfolios, underlining the importance of the trip to Myanmar's nominally civilian government. Singapore President Tony Tan said the wealthy city-state would strengthen economic cooperation and business links with Myanmar, as the country emerges from decades of political and economic isolation. "We have every confidence that Myanmar's progress in developing economic infrastructure and legal framework will further encourage investments into the country," Tan told the dinner. He said Singapore had provided technical assistance to over 7,500 Myanmar officials in various fields since 1992. With the West looking at easing sanctions and businesses closely watching the reforms, Myanmar needs to prepare for an anticipated increase in investments and tourism, analysts said. Myanmar has rich natural resources, including gold, gas, teak, oil, jade and gems and a large pool of low-cost labour. The country also boasts an array of tourism attractions with its appealing colonial architecture, picturesque temples and golden beaches. "If all goes well, Burma certainly looks forward to being welcomed from the political wilderness," said Song Seng Wun, a regional economist with Malaysian bank CIMB, using Myanmar's former name. "It looks like the Burmese are in a hurry to catch up in the shortest possible time," he told AFP. "After so many years of isolation, their capacity to handle the expected inflow of investments and set up the much-needed regulatory frameworks have to be brought up to scratch as quickly as possible." Tan also pledged to "work closely" with Myanmar as it assumes chairmanship of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) in 2014. Under military rule, Myanmar had long been a thorn in the side of ASEAN, hobbling the bloc's relations with Western powers because of the jailing of opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi and allegations of widespread rights abuses. Suu Kyi has been released from detention as part of the reforms and is now campaigning for a parliamentary seat in elections scheduled in April.