Political stability, military dominate historic meeting

Myanmar’s leading political figures have reached agreement on the continued role of the military in politics and the desire for political stability, according to those present at an historic meeting last week.

The October 31 meeting at President U Thein Sein’s residence in Nay Pyi Taw brought together the president, Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, NLD leader Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, Pyidaungsu Hluttaw Speaker Thura U Shwe Mann and Union Election Commission chief U Tin Aye, as well as the leaders of four other political parties.

It was the first encounter of its kind since the military took power in 1988. Talks focused on three main issues: continuing the reform process, achieving national reconciliation and maintaining stability.

All agreed to amend constitution in parliament, presidential spokesperson U Ye Htut told reporters at a press conference afterward, adding that “no one wants people to take to the streets”.

“It is a good result,” he said.

He added that Commander-in-Chief Senior General Min Aung Hlaing told political leaders he agreed on the need to amend the 2008 constitution, and suggested that some changes might be up for negotiation.

“The commander-in-chief said that sometimes, in the legislative process, the majority won through votes even though the minority is right, so we need to solve it in the right way,” said U Ye Htut.

The meeting was Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s first formal encounter with the commander-in-chief. U Ye Htut said she told Senior General Min Aung Hlaing she always respects the Tatmadaw, even though they have differing views on many issues.

U Khin Maung Swe, who took part in the meeting as the head of the National Democratic Force, said all present understood that the Tatmadaw would continue to stay in national politics.

He added that while they discussed amending the constitution, no one discussed section 436, which gives the military a veto over constitutional change. Participants also urged the government to reach agreement with armed ethnic groups on a nationwide ceasefire “as soon as possible” and to create a framework for political dialogue.

“We all agreed to maintain the current results we’ve achieved, not to deviate away from the democratic transition, and that we need stable political conditions to hold the 2015 election,” U Khin Maung Swe said.

During the press conference, U Ye Htut said the nationwide ceasefire would be signed at the end of 2014 or in early 2015. The government will hold free and fair elections next year in cooperation with civil society, the media and international organisations.

Invitations for the meeting were sent out on October 29, and came as something of a surprise given the president had rejected previous requests from Daw Aung San Suu Kyi for a high-level meeting to discuss the constitution.

Some observers said they believed the timing of the meeting was significant as MPs are debating amendments to the 2008 constitution and preparations are in train for next month’s ASEAN summit in Nay Pyi Taw.

“Agreement among political leaders over the political barriers we are now facing would be very helpful. Previous rounds of negotiations didn’t really get anywhere,” said U Aye Thar Aung, vice chair of the Rakhine National Party.

Political analyst U Yan Myo Thein said the meeting could help pave the way for future political dialogue “but the talks will be in vain if this is just window-dressing for President Obama’s visit. We will have to wait and see,” he said.

U Ye Htut insisted that the meeting had nothing to do with external issues.

“[This meeting] was not held for anyone else,” he said.


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