Aung San Suu Kyi Discusses Transition With Myanmar’s Parliamentary Speaker

myanmar-assk-meeting-shwe-mann-nov19-2015.jpg Aung San Suu Kyi (C), chairwoman of the National League for Democracy, leaves Myanmar's parliament after a meeting with parliamentary speaker Shwe Mann in Naypyidaw, Nov. 19, 2015.

Aung San Suu Kyi met with the speaker of Myanmar’s lower house of parliament Thursday in the capital Naypyidaw to discuss the upcoming political power transition following her party’s overwhelming victory in the country’s general elections.

She and Shwe Mann, a senior Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) lawmaker, agreed to “peacefully implement the desire of the people” following the Nov. 8 elections and “respect national reconciliation and ethnic unity” when the new parliament meets in January, according to a statement they released.

Aung San Suu Kyi had invited Shwe Mann — who lost his seat in Phyu township, Bago region, to a National League for Democracy (NLD) candidate in the elections — to a “national reconciliation” meeting with her last week after it became apparent that the NLD had swept the vote.

Aung San Suu Kyi also invited President Thein Sein and military commander-in-chief Min Aung Hlaing to meet with her, although both have said they would do so after the country’s Union Election Commission completed its tallying of the votes. Both men have agreed to uphold the election results.

In the afternoon, Aung San Suu Kyi met with more than 60 foreign diplomats, including U.S. ambassador Derek Mitchell, U.K. ambassador Andrew Patrick and Chinese ambassador Hong Liang at the office of the Rule and Law Committee in Naypyidaw.

The diplomats, however, would not comment on what they discussed.

“They mainly discussed the elections and the post-election situation,” said Sai Bo Aung, a lawmaker and Rule and Law Committee member. “The diplomats asked her about what the situation would be after the change [of power].”

Some political and social figures have voiced concern about whether Thein Sein’s quasi-civilian government and the military, which automatically controls 25 percent of the seats in parliament, would willingly transfer power to an NLD president who would likely take office in March.

When the new representatives from the lower house, upper house and military bloc meet early next year, they each will put forward a candidate for president and cast votes. The winner will become president, and the two losers will become vice presidents.

The military will continue to dictate the appointment of the heads of three important ministries and hold a veto power over constitutional changes.

“We have many concerns about the transition period,” said Yan Myo Thein, an academic and political commentator, noting that Thein Sein and Min Aung Hlaing have not yet set a date to meet Aung San Suu Kyi. “We have to worry about the transition period as long as we don’t have agreements from the president and military chief that they will meet with [her].”

Past experience

Some in Myanmar are skeptical about the military’s intention to cooperate with the NLD come January when the current parliament will be dissolved, given that the army ignored the NLD’s landslide victory in the 1990 elections and kept Aung San Suu Kyi under house arrest.

“People are concerned about the transition period because of past experiences when the [1990] election results were ignored and because of ongoing fighting in Kachin and Shan states,” said Mya Aye, a leader of the 88 Generation student group. “I have positive thoughts about [the transition], but still have doubts.”

Fighting between government troops and armed ethnic forces in Shan and Kachin states picked up this week with the launch of new army offensives that sent hundreds of villagers fleeing to safety.

The rebel soldiers involved in the skirmishes were not among the eight armed ethnic groups that signed a so-called nationwide peace agreement (NCA) with Thein Sein’s government on Oct. 15.

Myanmar’s armed ethnic groups have said they will work with Aung San Suu Kyi's incoming government to continue the peace process started by Thein Sein’s administration, the online journal The Irrawaddy reported Thursday, citing senior NLD member Win Htein as the source.

Writer Moe Thu, a co-founder of the NLD, pointed out that fighting between army soldiers and rebel troops was under way even when the NCA was signed, saying it was not clear if one or both sides were responsible for the ongoing hostilities.

He indicated that the new government, however, would have to deal with the results of the continued skirmishes.

“These fights create more refugees and internally displaced persons, and this also will hurt the country’s economy and education,” he said.

Kyaw Win, a writer and political commentator, said the transition would go smoothly if whoever is selected president is a politician that the military welcomes.

“If not, we can have problems during the period when power is transferred,” he said. “There would not just be problems with transferring power.”

Aung San Suu Kyi has been at loggerheads with the army over a provision in the current constitution, drafted in 2008 under the former military junta, which bans her from becoming president because her sons are foreign nationals, as was her late husband. She has vowed to be “above the president” when the NLD assumes power.

‘We don’t trust them’

Myanmar citizens have echoed similar concerns about the power transfer.  

“We have concerns about whether unexpected changes will come with the election results because there is still more than four months to the time when power is transferred,” said Khin Swe Myint, a housewife and volunteer teacher at a charity-run school.

“We don’t trust them [the current government and military] because of past experiences,” she said. “It would be great if the power transfer period went well, but we warn each other to be very careful before this time.”

Others have expressed concern that the USDP government might try to use race and religious conflicts to disrupt the NLD from assuming power.

“Buddhist monks are concerned about whether the current government will try to harm the power transfer by doing something with race and religious conflicts because there were many of these in 2012 and 2013,” said Buddhist monk Ashin Eaindasara, referring to the time when the ultra-nationalist Buddhist organization Ma Ba Tha incited anti-Muslim sentiment in the country.

The group, also known as the Committee for the Protection of Nationality and Religion, was linked to a wave of violence against Myanmar’s Muslim minority in 2012 and 2013.

It vehemently opposed the NLD in the run-up to this month’s elections, but its leader Ashin Wirathu later congratulated the party on its victory.

“Everybody knows that Ma Ba Tha and the current government did some things together,” said Ashin Eaindasara. “I want to warn people to be careful, cautious and to protect the result of their votes.”

Regardless of any attempts to keep the NLD from forming a government, Sai Khine Myo Tun, a lecturer at Monywa University in Sagaing region, said it isn’t likely that anyone would deny the NLD’s victory this time.

“The election results won’t be changed because almost everyone voted for the NLD, and the international [groups that] monitored the elections knew it won a landslide victory.”

Reported by Myo Thant Khine, Khet Mar, Kyaw Kyaw Aung and Khin Khin Ei for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.

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