Myanmar President Thein Sein: Tough army man turned reformist | world | Hindustan Times
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Myanmar President Thein Sein: Tough army man turned reformist

world Updated: May 28, 2012 15:49 IST
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Myanmar President Thein Sein, who met Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Monday, is a former general turned reformist whose hands world leaders are rushing to clasp as his once pariah nation gingerly treads the democratic path.

He is the man responsible for carrying out dramatic reforms after nearly five decades of repressive military rule. The world took notice of him after he allowed democracy to germinate in the country, which saw India-educated Aung San Suu Kyi going on to become a parliamentarian after years of house arrest at her lakeside villa in Yangon.

After the bespectacled Thein Sein shed his uniform, he became an integral part of the United Solidarity and Development Party, which dominated elections and now has sweeping control of the new parliament, where 25% of its members are from the army.

A graduate of the elite Defence Services Academy, Thein Sein has held key positions in the powerful army. Western media reports cite his being untainted by corruption allegations as a reason for his becoming the prime minister in 2007 and ultimately the president.

Foreign Policy magazine quoted a former army officer as saying that Thein Sein is "polite and likes to keep a low profile".

"He's not after personal popularity. He's a bit media-shy and not really suited for the life of a populist politician. But his honesty and sincerity could attract public sympathy," the former army officer said.

Polite he may be, but he knows when to wield the stick and he doesn't hesitate to show who is the boss, a trait that could not be missed when he halted work last year on an ambitious $3.2 billion Chinese-backed dam.

He stunned China, the country's main benefactor for years, by halting work in 2011 at the Myitsone dam. The project had fuelled fighting between the army and ethnic Kachin rebels. The dam was being developed at the head of the Irrawaddy river.

Now in his mid-60s, the Thein Sein reportedly suffers from a heart condition that requires him to have a pacemaker.