Aung San Suu Kyi Talks Transition with Myanmar’s President, Military Chief

myanmar-assk-min-aung-hlaing-dec-2015.jpg Min Aung Hlaing (L) and Aung San Suu Kyi (R) shake hands after their meeting at the commander in chief's office in Naypyidaw, Dec. 2, 2015.

Myanmar opposition party leader Aung San Suu Kyi met with President Thein Sein and military chief Min Aung Hlaing Wednesday to discuss a “peaceful transfer of power,” nearly a month after her National League for Democracy (NLD) swept the country’s general elections.

Aung San Suu Kyi had called for “national reconciliation” talks with the two power brokers shortly after the NLD was assured a victory in the Nov. 8 polls and observers are anxious to see how the transition will play out in Myanmar, where the military retains substantial sway over the country’s political affairs.

The Nobel laureate spoke with Thein Sein—a former military general whose quasi-civilian government took power from the junta in 2011 and instituted democratic change—at the presidential residence in the capital Naypyidaw for 45 minutes, his spokesman Ye Htut told reporters after the closed meeting.

He said transferring power to Myanmar’s next government will be the “final victory” for the outgoing president’s reform process and sought to assure doubters that the transition would be a smooth one.

“Both leaders discussed the smooth and peaceful transfer of power, to relieve public concerns over the transition,” Ye Htut said, adding that Thein Sein had “already told the world and personally promised” that he would work towards such a goal.

“During the meeting, our president highlighted the need for a tradition of peaceful power transfer from an elected government to the next elected government, which we have never had in place since Myanmar’s independence”—an objective Aung San Suu Kyi agreed with, he said.

Myanmar’s former junta assumed leadership through a coup d’état orchestrated by General Ne Win in 1962—only 14 years after the country won its independence from British colonial rule—and remained in power for nearly five decades until a 2010 election widely seen as neither free nor fair.

The NLD had swept the previous election in 1990, but the then-ruling military regime ignored the results and placed Aung San Suu Kyi under house arrest for more than a decade.

Thein Sein also congratulated Aung San Suu Kyi on her party’s victory at the polls, while the NLD leader expressed gratitude that the elections were free and fair as promised, Ye Htut said, adding that the two had agreed to set up a “channel of communication” to help guide the transition process.

Military meeting

Later on Wednesday, Aung San Suu Kyi held her first-ever meeting with Myanmar’s commander in chief Min Aung Hlaing, who will remain in control of the country’s powerful military after the transition to a new government.
Speaking to reporters as he departed from the one-hour closed-door discussion with the NLD leader, Min Aung Hlaing said the two had “agreed to cooperate in the interest of the country,” adding that their meeting had “yielded positive results.”

A press statement released by the office of the commander in chief shortly after the two met said they had “agreed to work together for peace and stability, rule of law and the development of the country, in accordance with the people’s wishes.”

Observers generally agree that the NLD, which lacks substantial experience in public administrative, will need to cultivate a working relationship with the military to govern the country.

While the party won a majority in parliament and will be able to select the country’s new president, the military will continue to hold 25 percent of the legislature’s seats through appointment, giving it veto power over all constitutional amendments.

The NLD has campaigned to reform the junta-era constitution, including a clause that prevents Aung San Suu Kyi from becoming president because her sons are foreign nationals. In June, the military bloc of parliament voted in unison to keep its veto power and has resisted efforts to amend the charter.

In addition to the military’s influence on the legislature, Min Aung Hlaing will also appoint the leaders of three key ministries—defense, home affairs and border affairs—when the new government takes power, which is expected to occur in February or March after the new parliament meets and votes on a new president.

More than pledges needed

While some observers had expressed concern that the president and commander-in-chief had waited weeks to meet with Aung San Suu Kyi, saying it could indicate their reluctance to hand over power, they acknowledged that the country had no precedent for a peaceful transition.

“Judging by past experience, we believe this is a good thing for the country, as the government has publicly and officially announced it will transfer power,” Ko Ko Gyi, a leader of the 88 Generation student democracy movement, told RFA’s Myanmar Service.

But others suggested that more than pledges are needed to ensure stability in newly democratic Myanmar, which is reeling from decades of mismanagement under military rule.

“We are glad to hear the government and military will cooperate, but words of promise are not enough and practical action is needed, given the complexity of political problems in the country,” said Aye Thar Aung, a member of parliament and the leader of the ethnic Arakan National Party (ANP).

Political analyst Min Zin expressed confidence that the transfer of power would be “timely,” as previously promised by Thein Sein and Min Aung Hlaing.

“But beyond procedural transfer, there are questions about … how far they will cooperate in terms of priorities—not just in terms of power sharing,” he told RFA.

“For example, what is the country’s priority for the new government—constitutional reforms, peace and ethnic affairs, development and well-being of the citizens, or rule of law?”

Reported by RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Kyaw Min Htun. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.

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