Myanmar’s major political players held their first day of six-party talks on constitutional reform, a peace agreement and the upcoming national elections on Friday at the presidential palace, and agreed to hold their next round of discussions before parliament resumes on May 11.
The six participants—President Thein Sein, opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, speaker of the lower house of parliament Shwe Man, speaker of the upper house Khin Aung Myint, military commander-in-chief Senior General Ming Aung Hlaing, and ethnic representative Aye Maung—met in the capital Naypyidaw to discuss the report from the Parliamentary Constitutional Amendment Implementation Committee, consisting of 31 lawmakers.
They agreed to amend the constitution enacted in 2008 when a military junta ruled the country, presidential spokesman Ye Htut told RFA’s Myanmar Service.
“We discussed what we could implement before the coming elections and set a time frame for next talks,” he said. “We will discuss the details of amending the constitution in the next talks.”
Myanmar is slated to hold national elections in November, and it is widely believed that the opposition National League for Democracy (NLD) party, led by Aung Aan Suu Kyi, will win.
“Everybody could exchange views and opinions during today’s meeting, and the talks were useful and effective,” Ye Htut said of Friday’s meeting.
Aye Maung, chairman of the Arakan National Party who was selected by ethnic lawmakers to represent them in the talks, told RFA that the participants would discuss the details of which acts or articles should be amended during their next meeting.
He also said that Thein Sein wanted to include more people in the next round of talks, but Shwe Mann and Aung San Suu Kyi said six people were enough.
Aung San Suu Kyi previously wanted four-way discussions among herself, Thein Sein, Shwe Mann and Min Aung Hlaing, but after a meeting with the president in January, she endorsed the six-party talks.
She wants amendments to the 2008 constitution to curb the political power of the military, which controls a quarter of the seats in parliament through appointment and holds an effective veto over proposed charter reform, and to change provisions that make her ineligible for the country’s presidency because her sons hold foreign citizenship.
Aung San Suu Kyi, 69, recently said the NLD had not ruled out a boycott of the upcoming elections, which will be seen as a test for the country’s transition to democracy. The party had boycotted the 2010 elections when Aung San Suu Kyi was under house arrest by the military.
Thein Sein’s quasi-military government replaced the junta-led administration in 2011.
The military says it wants peace
During Friday’s discussions, Aung Hlaing talked about “how the military wrote the constitution, how we need stability in the country, and how the constitution should not be amended if our country can become stable without amending it,” Aye Maung said. But “if there are some acts or articles that need to be amended, we have to amend them.”
He also said that the military commander-in-chief wanted peace in the conflict between different armed ethnic groups and the government army and for the ethnic groups to have self-rule in their respective regions.
Myanmar’s armed ethnic groups have called for a federal system that would give them more control over regional governance and natural resources.
“I brought a paper agreement from all ethnic groups to submit during the discussion,” Aye Maung said. “I gave it to the president and the commander-in-chief. Our approach in it is to have a federal union and to build a democratic society.”
The government has said it wants a nationwide ceasefire in place before the national elections. Ethnic leaders and government representatives last week agreed on a draft text of the document.
The six-party meeting came two days after Thein Sein held rare talks with dozens of political leaders to discuss upcoming elections and finalize a nationwide cease-fire agreement with ethnic armies.
Reported by Myo Thant Khine and Waiyan Moe Myint of RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.