The chief of Myanmar's pro-military party says he is not ruling out a coalition government with the opposition party of Aung San Suu Kyi after crucial elections in 2015, if it is in the national interest.
In the past two weeks, both lower house speaker Shwe Mann and Nobel laureate Suu Kyi have said they want to run for president. The election will be crucial in setting Myanmar's political direction as it shifts from decades of authoritarian rule.
Former general Shwe Mann made the comments on Thursday during a visit to Washington with a multi-party delegation of Myanmar lawmakers, one of them from Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy. Shwe Mann was third-ranking member of the repressive junta that imprisoned Suu Kyi for years.
Shwe Mann said his party was collaborating with Suu Kyi, who was elected to parliament last year. Asked if a coalition was possible after the election, he indicated it was, but said it was too soon to say whether or not it would definitely happen.
"Time will decide on this matter. But the important thing here is to have confidence between Aung San Suu Kyi and us," he said through an interpreter.
Few epitomise Myanmar's dramatic transition from pariah state to aspiring democracy as powerfully as Shwe Mann, a 65-year-old former general who was a trusted lieutenant of junta chief Than Shwe. A March 2007 diplomatic cable from the US embassy in Yangon published by Wikileaks even dubbed him a "dictator-in-waiting". He also led a secret 2008 trip to North Korea, reportedly to reach agreement on missile technology.
But as Myanmar has changed direction, so has Shwe Mann. He is now viewed as a committed reformer and closer to Suu Kyi than the current president, Thein Sein, who has led the nation's political changes.
Shwe Mann recently replaced Thein Sein as head of the Union Solidarity and Development Party, which dominates the fledgling legislature. His influence also extends into the still-powerful military he served in for four decades. His delegation received a grand reception in Washington, meeting top State Department officials, former secretary of state Hillary Rodham Clinton and lawmakers including House Democrats Nancy Pelosi and Joe Crowley, and Republican Senators Mitch McConnell and John McCain.
Shwe Mann acknowledged challenges in the democratic transition, but predicted the 2015 election would be free and fair, which the 2010 vote that put his party in power was not, and was boycotted by Suu Kyi.
Her party has only a toe-hold in the legislature after winning a few dozen seats in a special election in 2012.
In the last nationwide free vote, in 1990, Suu Kyi's party won convincingly, but the military ignored the result.