Myanmar’s Aung San Suu Kyi holds transition talks

Leader of victorious opposition party asks outgoing president to ensure smooth and peaceful transfer of power.

Thein Sein and Aung San Suu Kyi met for about 45 minutes on Wednesday [Reuters/Myanmar News Agency]
Thein Sein and Aung San Suu Kyi met for about 45 minutes on Wednesday [Reuters/Myanmar News Agency]

Aung San Suu Kyi, Myanmar’s opposition leader, and the country’s outgoing president have agreed on a smooth transfer of power to the new government, three weeks after her party won a decisive election victory.

Aung San Suu Kyi, leader of the National League for Democracy (NLD) party, asked President Thein Sein to ensure a peaceful transition so as not to raise concerns among the public, a government official said after Wednesday’s hour-long meeting in the presidential palace in Naypyitaw.

“President Thein Sein agreed,” Ye Htut, the presidential spokesman, said.

“This is the final victory of the reform process carried out by current government led by President Thein Sein, as there is no precedent in Myanmar for a government transferring power peacefully to an election winner.”

Aung San Suu Kyi also met General Min Aung Hlaing, Myanmar’s military commander, in the afternoon.

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Following the meeting, Min Aung Hlaing’s office issued a statement saying, “both sides agreed to follow people’s wish to collaborate for the country’s stability, rule of law, national unity and development.”

The meetings come amid speculation that Aung San Suu Kyi could manoeuvre to become president despite the current constitutional restrictions, and three weeks after she sent a letter calling for “national reconciliation”.

However, changes to the constitution were not discussed in the meeting with the president, which lasted for about 45 minutes, Ye Htut said.

Shwe Mann, a former general and lower house speaker, met Aung San Suu Kyi on November 19, to discuss the transition.

NLD swept the historic parliamentary election last month, winning solid majorities in the lower and upper houses. The party also won most of the regional parliament seats.

While those victories mean that voters want to make “tremendous changes” in the country’s politics, Aung San Suu Kyi cannot carry out those changes without the support of the military establishment, said Yan Myo Thein, a Yangon-based political analyst.

“In the constitution, a total of 25 percent of seats in parliament as well as three key ministers in union government and all key security ministers in regional government are reserved for the military,” Yan Myo Thein told Al Jazeera.

Constitutional prohibition

The current constitution drawn up during the rule of the former military junta also prohibits Aung San Suu Kyi from being nominated president, because she was married to a foreigner and both her children are British citizens.

So, even with the NLD’s overwhelming majority, and its ability to pick the next president and pass laws, it is still unable to override military veto, and remove the restrictions for her to become president.

It is widely believed that Aung San Suu Kyi wants to be the country’s next president.

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In an interview with Bangkok Post last week, the NLD senior leader Tin Oo dropped more hints, suggesting that the party wants to nominate her when the new parliament convenes in January. He suggested temporarily suspending or repealing that constitutional restriction.

In a short interview with Al Jazeera, Ye Min Oo, an NLD party insider and Yangon-based banker, confirmed Aung San Suu Kyi’s meeting with Thein Sein and Min Aung Hlaing in the capital Naypyidaw.

But he would not give any more details of the meeting, saying he wants to avoid further political speculations. 

The official government statements also did not give more details about the meeting, but it is expected that the leaders would be discussing the political transition and the transfer of power.

Nathan Maung, founder and publisher of Kamayut online media, said Aung San Suu Kyi is a “pragmatic politician”, and in order to govern, she needs to talk to those who oppose her, particularly the military establishment.

“Aung San Suu Kyi needs to make a compromise with ethnic parties to form a government, and talk with the military for power sharing, and to reform the constitution,” Maung told Al Jazeera. 

“It’s not winner take it all. Compromise is a healthy practise in a democracy. We don’t need to shy away from it.”

Maung, however, said the time has come for the military “to stay away from day-to-day politics” of the country.

Deep distrust

Despite the military’s repeated assurance that it will turn over the reins of political power to the democratically elected parliament next year, deep distrust remains given its history of holding on to power, he added.

In 1990, Aung San Suu Kyi’s party also swept the election, but the outcome was ignored by the military government, which put her in detention for a total of 15 years.

“In the past, the military did not really keep its promise. That’s the problem. So, nobody trusts them,” Maung said.

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Maung also warned that the military could still use the ongoing conflict with ethnic rebels in the northern Shan and Kachin States to justify staying in power for another two years.

“It’s constitutionally permitted. But it is very dangerous.”

Meanwhile, Myanmar native and US citizen Miemie Byrd, a professor at the Asia-Pacific Center for Security Studies in the US state of Hawaii, said the international community’s view and expectation of Myanmar’s political transition to democracy have been “simplistic and unrealistic”.

“In some cases, they had exacerbated the conflict in Myanmar. My concern is that the international community’s reaction and interpretation could exacerbate the conflicts and challenges inside Myanmar” following the historic election, she told Al Jazeera. 

She said that while the election itself is a manifestation of the change so far, the country has a long road ahead, and it would take time for the political leaders including Aung San Suu Kyi to fix the ineffective governance run for a long time by an authoritarian regime.

“Whomever is at the leadership of the new government will be limited by the above challenges to quickly advance the reforms and progress. You just can’t get the bullock cart to go as fast as an automobile.”

She said that Myanmar citizens and the international community must “exercise patience and have realistic expectations” on the speed of the transition to full democracy.

Source : Al Jazeera


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