A high-level meeting hosted by Myanmar President Thein Sein on Friday to discuss the country’s problems was not a "practical" mechanism, according to opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who said such talks should be confined to a small group for better results.
The unprecedented meeting in the capital Naypyidaw involved more than a dozen participants, including Thein Sein, Aung San Suu Kyi, the military’s commander-in-chief Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, parliamentary speaker Shwe Mann, and leaders of several other political parties and ethnic groups.
No decisions were adopted at the hastily-arranged discussions on political reforms, the country’s armed ethnic conflict, constitutional impediments, and general elections to be held next year.
Aung San Suu Kyi said it was difficult to make much headway at a meeting involving so many parties, defending her previous proposal for just four-way talks among her, Thein Sein, parliamentary speaker Shwe Mann, and Senior General Min Aung Hlaing to break the stalemate on amending the country’s military-written constitution.
"We on our part firmly stand by our position on the matter of the quadrilateral talks,” she said after the meeting at Thein Sein’s residence.
"It is not because of party biases or policy biases. It is a practical necessity."
She said Friday's meeting could not grapple with problems head-on.
"Just giving everyone 10 minutes to talk and then ask if there is anything else general to talk about ... that is not what we see as a kind of quadrilateral talks," the Nobel laureate said.
Aung San Suu Kyi, who heads the National League for Democracy (NLD), has labeled the constitution fundamentally “undemocratic” and called for extensive changes.
The constitution bars her from becoming leader of the country because her two sons are not Myanmar citizens. The ruling party and the military are reluctant to amend the charter to pave the way for her to be in the running for the presidency.
Last week, a parliamentary panel considering constitutional amendments said the powerful military has refused to give up its veto on making any changes to the country's constitution which are key to giving ethnic groups greater powers.
Ye Htut, the spokesman for Thein Sein, said military chief Min Aung Hlaing was open to changes in the constitution during the talks.
“What he precisely said was that the military accepts the fact that if there are issues that really need to be amended in the constitution, the changes must be made in accordance with the laws which epitomizes the essence of democracy,” Ye Htut told RFA’s Myanmar Service.
He defended Thein Sein's decision move to hold the meeting, saying it was only the beginning of a consultation process.
“For us, the nature of this summit meeting is that in the first stage, every leader would have the opportunity to express their positions,” he said.
“After an exchange of views they will go back to their respective organizations and as a second stage, discuss within their own organizations. And after those discussions and when good ideas are formed, we can all meet again,” Ye Htut said.
On Aung San Suu Kyi’s proposal for four-way talks, he said Thein Sein wanted to include “everyone” in the discussions. “We think that other remaining parties should also be included.”
Khin Maung Swe, chairman of the Federal Democratic Alliance (FDA), a coalition of nine political and ethnic parties, and a leading official of the opposition National Democratic Force (NDF) party, told RFA that all parties at the meeting had no objections to amend the constitution “in accordance with the law in the Hluttaw [parliament].”
The meeting also addressed long-running efforts between the government and armed ethnic groups to forge a nationwide cease-fire accord.
The ethnic groups have accused the military of staging incursions in rebel controlled areas in Kachin, Shan, Mon, and Kayin states in recent months, saying the actions raised questions over the government’s commitment to the peace process.
Khin Maung Swe said the participants agreed that peace has to be achieved through “a democratic system and with the establishment of a federal union.”
Ethnic rebel groups have insisted on a federal union which would give their states greater powers as well as greater representation in parliament.
A day before the meeting, U.S. President Barack Obama phoned Thein Sein and Aung San Suu Kyi separately, stressing the need for them to address communal tensions, forge a nationwide cease-fire pact, and hold credible general elections next year.
Some believe that Thein Sein called the meeting to show that he was working towards forging peace and developing democracy before international leaders, including Obama, meet in November in Naypyidaw for a high-level meeting of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and the East Asia Summit.
“It has nothing to do with Obama or because of the ASEAN summit,” he said. “It’s not a matter of trying to ease [international] pressure [on Myanmar],” Ye Htut said.
Reported by Moe Thant Khine, Wai Mar Htun and Thin Thiri. Translated by Soe Thinn. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.