Myanmar President Thein Sein Takes Aim at Critics Over Six-Way Talks

2014-12-04
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Myanmar President Thein Sein attends a meeting between Union ministers and Yangon-based political parties at the parliament building in Yangon  Nov. 26, 2014.
Myanmar President Thein Sein attends a meeting between Union ministers and Yangon-based political parties at the parliament building in Yangon Nov. 26, 2014.
AFP

Myanmar President Thein Sein has taken issue with what his office called harsh criticism leveled at him after it rejected a proposal by parliament for top-level talks on constitutional amendments.

A statement issued Thursday by the president’s office referred to a bill approved unanimously by parliament on Nov. 25 calling for six-way talks on constitutional reform and said that some of the criticism leveled at Thein Sein were unwarranted.

“It was found that some responsible persons from some political parties expressed their opinions by quoting the words that the president had not said as if they had been said by the president or used words that personally attacked other people who have different opinions of them,” the statement said.

It did not identify anyone who made such attacks.

The statement came after some representatives from political parties had attacked Thein Sein for ignoring parliament’s call for talks among the president, opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, lower house of parliament speaker Shwe Mann, upper house speaker Khin Aung Mying, armed forces commander-in-chief Min Aung Hlaing, and a representative for the country’s ethnic groups.

“The president’s office warns that when you want to criticize someone, make sure the criticism is based on reliable information,” the president’s spokesman, Ye Htut told RFA’s Myanmar Service.

Ye Htut, who is also Information Minister, had earlier told RFA that the six-way talks would be “impractical,” in an indication that the government and military were reluctant to follow through with the parliament’s proposal.

He said it would be impossible to hold the talks because those involved would be speaking as individuals and not as representatives of institutions.

Furthermore, minority ethnic groups have raised concerns that there would be only one participant representing them at the talks, he said.

“That’s why we said we need to take time to hold the all-inclusive talks by considering all suggestions and comments we received,” he said.

“As efforts are being made for national reconciliation nowadays, it is necessary for political parties to confirm with news sources before expressing their opinions and to respect the rights and dignity of other people and organizations,” said Zaw Htay, director of the president’s office.

Lack of action

But others believe the president’s lack of action indicates his administration and the powerful army are firmly opposed to reforming the country’s constitution, which was written in 2008 when a military junta ruled Myanmar.

The charter grants the army significant power by giving it control of a quarter of the legislature and a crucial veto over constitutional amendments.

It also contains an article that would prevent Aung San Suu Kyi from becoming president should the NLD win the 2015 general elections, because her two sons are British citizens as was her late husband.

Thein Sein held largely symbolic talks among 14 representatives from political parties and ethnic and other groups last month where participants presented their views on constitutional changes and other reform issues before a visit by U.S. President Barack Obama, who has been critical of Myanmar for not pressing ahead with reform.

Aung San Suu Kyi has earlier proposed four-party talks among Thein Sein, Shwe Mann, the military chief and herself, but Ye Htut told RFA there was no plan to hold them.

Still waiting

Lawmakers from other opposition parties said they were still waiting for an official decision from Thein Sein about the holding of the six-party talks.

“I accept it is necessary for political parties to confirm with news sources before expressing their opinions,” said Aye Maung, chairman of the Rakhine Nationalities Development Party. “That’s why we are waiting for the president’s message on the six-party talks, which will be sent to the parliament’s spokesperson because it is the primary source [of the proposal.]

“Information Minister Ye Htut’s words on the talks were like putting the cart before the horse. I think the president needs to check with Minister Ye Htut about what he said to international media and on social media like Facebook.”

Zaw Myint Maung, executive committee member of the NLD, agreed that lawmakers have the right to discuss issues openly, but they should not attack others.

“We have tried discussing our opinions in parliament without attacking others,” he said. “We support the six-party talks. The important talks should be started with top leaders.”

Reported by Tin Aung Khine and Khin Khin Ei of RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.

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