Myanmar to Hold Six-Party Talks on Constitutional Change

myanmar-shwe-mann-and-thein-sein-oct-2014.jpg Myanmar President Thein Sein (L) shakes hands with parliament speaker Shwe Mann (R) ahead of a meeting at the president's office in Naypyidaw, Oct. 31, 2014.

Myanmar’s parliamentary speaker Shwe Mann said Monday that high-level six-party talks on constitutional change will be held later this week, according to an ethnic party lawmaker who will attend the meeting.

Parties to the April 10 talks will consist of President Thein Sein, upper house speaker Khin Aung Myint, commander in chief Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, opposition National League for Democracy (NLD) party leader Aung San Suu Kyi, ethnic party representative Aye Maung, and Shwe Mann, who is lower house speaker.

Shwe Mann, who heads the powerful ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), made the announcement during a meeting with 18 political parties at the parliament building in the capital Naypyidaw, Arakan National Party lawmaker Aye Maung told RFA’s Myanmar Service.

Aye Maung said that in addition to issues related to natural resources and taxes, he planned to discuss the role of the military in the government at the six-party talks.

“If possible, I will ask them how much the military could decrease its involvement in politics,” he said, adding that his goal is to reduce its role “to zero.”

“I also would like to ask for amendments to the judicial system to ensure greater transparency.”

Aye Maung added that he would debrief the country’s ethnic parties after the six-party talks and then meet with Shwe Mann on April 11 to relate their feedback.

Seats at the table

Bickering over the number of parties to be included in the discussions has stymied progress on the issue.

Aung San Suu Kyi had been holding out for four-way discussions among herself, Thein Sein, Shwe Mann and Min Aung Hlaing.

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 charter reform, and make her ineligible for the country’s presidency.

But after meeting with Thein Sein in January, she called for six-party talks that would also include Khin Aung Myint and a representative of the ethnic parties.

Aung San Suu Kyi told Reuters news agency over the weekend that the NLD would consider boycotting general elections planned for later this year if the country’s constitution, which blocks her from becoming president because her sons are foreign nationals, is not amended.

The charter, written by the former junta in 2008, also guarantees a quarter of seats for military delegates, allowing them to veto any proposed constitutional amendment.

Thein Sein reluctant

Thein Sein had refused to hold four-party talks as well as six-party talks put forward by parliament, which would put the reform of Myanmar’s controversial 2008 constitution at the center of cease-fire negotiations with country’s armed ethnic groups.

Myanmar’s government and a coalition of armed ethnic groups inked a tentative nationwide cease-fire agreement last week ending six decades of conflict, with Thein Sein suggesting a final deal could be signed as early as April.

Thein Sein hastily arranged 14-party talks at the end of October, a week before visits by world leaders, including U.S. President Barack Obama, for two regional summits—a move criticized by many observers as an empty demonstration that the government was making progress towards national reconciliation.

He also met with nearly 40 politicians and ethnic leaders to push for national reconciliation in January and lawmakers from more than 60 political parties in November about their “responsibility” to amend the constitution.

Reported by Kyaw Thu and Khin Khin Ei for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.


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