Myanmar President Thein Sein has called for a surprise meeting with opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, the country’s powerful military chief, and leaders of other political parties and ethnic groups on Friday to discuss the country’s political problems, according to some of those invited and news reports.
They said the meeting in the capital Naypyidaw could grapple with long-running efforts to forge a nationwide cease-fire agreement between armed ethnic groups and the government, as well as proposed constitutional amendments aimed at ending the military’s veto power in parliament.
“It’s cease-fire and peace. These two issues will be the main topics,” Nyan Win, spokesman of Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) party, told RFA’s Myanmar Service.
“It’s easy to understand why the meeting is being arranged … because there are difficulties, obstacles along the way,” in bringing about peace after decades of fighting between ethnic rebels and the government, he said.
Since the end of last year, Aung San Suu Kyi has been pushing for talks on Myanmar’s political reform process with the president, Speaker of the Lower House Shwe Mann, and military commander-in-chief General Min Aung Hlaing, all of whom are to attend Friday’s meeting.
She had wanted the meeting to focus on amendments to the country’s constitution which was written in 2008 when the country was under military rule. But Thein Sein did not want to convene the talks, saying he had wanted to wait for a parliamentary panel to complete its review of the charter. The panel said recently that the military lawmakers have refused to give up their parliamentary powers.
The NLD has been calling for a number of amendments to articles in the constitution it views as undemocratic, including Article 436 which effectively gives the military a veto over any constitutional amendments and Article 59(F) which prohibits Aung San Suu Kyi from becoming president because her two sons are not citizens of Myanmar.
The country faces crucial general elections next year.
Among the others invited to the meeting at Thein Sein’s residence are the chairman of the Election Commission, Tin Aye, the ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) vice-chairman, Htay Oo, and speaker of the upper house of parliament, Khin Aung Myint.
The leaders of the Shan Nationalities League for Democracy (SNLD) party and the National Democratic Force (NDF) party have also been invited.
“We presume that this meeting was arranged to breathe life into the nationwide cease-fire negotiations,” said Sai Nyunt Lwin, the SNLD general secretary.
“Since we achieved independence, there have been armed insurrections among the people of the union,” said Sai Aik Paung of the Nationalities Brotherhood Federation (NBF), an alliance of 20 ethnic political parties, who has also been invited to the talks.
Khin Maung Swe, chairman of the Federal Democratic Alliance (FDA), a coalition of nine political and ethnic parties and a leading NDF official, noted that the meeting would be the first of its kind among top leaders and said those participating in the talks must push for “positive” results.
“Those of us on the side of the political parties must negotiate to come up with the best outcome,” he told RFA. “We have plans to make demands and requests, as we will be getting an opportunity to meet with the president, chief of the military, and the Hluttaw [parliament] leaders.”
The meeting takes place before visits by U.S. President Barack Obama and other world leaders to Myanmar next month to attend the annual East Asia Summit.
In light of this, some political party leaders have questioned whether Thein Sein has arranged the meeting to demonstrate to world leaders that he is serious in his reform efforts considering recent criticism over the delay in forging a nationwide cease-fire with armed rebel groups and the refusal by the military to give up its veto power in parliament.
“If this meeting is just to appease the world leaders who will be visiting, then it is up to the people who will be attending the meeting [to do something],” Khin Maung Swe said. “From our side, we do not have to worry about that.”
Myanmar is the outgoing chair of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), which holds the East Asia Summit annually.
Some ethnic parties were unhappy that they had not been invited to the talks.
Aye Maung, deputy chairman of the Rakhine National Party, which rules the communal violence-hit western states of Rakhine, felt his party had been excluded from the talks because the government thought it was not a key force in the county.
Representatives from two ethnic Shan parties were invited but other groups, including the Mon, Chin, and Kachin, were excluded, he said.
“The president should clarify this,” he said.
Reported by Ma Thin Thiri for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Soe Thinn. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.