Burmese President Thien Sien hosted rare talks with influential allies and rivals, including Aung San Suu Kyi, yesterday as the opposition leader intensifies efforts to lift a constitutional bar against her running for the presidency.
The long-awaited talks in the capital, Naypyidaw, which follow a similar meeting of key political figures in October last year, come as the country braces for elections seen as a key test of reforms in the former junta-run nation.
The talks were being held behind close doors.
However, before the meeting, Burmese Presidential Office director Zaw Htay said the discussion would likely include maintaining order around the elections, slated for November, as well as details of a landmark draft ceasefire deal agreed with multiple ethnic armed groups last week.
“There could be disagreement, it’s impossible to be of one mind, but the more meetings there are, the more the talks can find common ground to benefit the people,” he said, adding that the head of the army was expected to attend the meeting.
Aung San Suu Kyi’s opposition National League for Democracy (NLD) gave no information about the talks.
“She will attend, but I don’t know details like what she might discuss, or her priorities,” NLD lawmaker Win Myint said.
The NLD is expected to hoover up votes in November’s election — the first countrywide poll that the party has contested in almost three decades.
Despite her star power, Aung San Suu Kyi is barred from the top job under a provision in the junta-era constitution barring those with a foreign spouse or children from the presidency. The 69-year-old’s two sons are British, as was her late husband.
She has solicited a wide spectrum of support, including from US President Barack Obama, for her move to change the constitution, which she has described as “unjust” and written specifically to keep her out of power.
Observers say she has accepted that it is unlikely she will be able to become president at this time.
Last year, the NLD collected 5 million signatures — about 10 percent of the population — in support of its bid to change another constitutional provision that enshrines the military’s effective veto on any amendments by reserving them a quarter of parliamentary seats.
However, the army has indicated it will oppose any efforts to significantly change the charter.
Meanwhile, the NLD has said the military veto meant it could not win a parliamentary vote on the issue.
The country’s powerful parliamentary speaker, Shwe Mann, last year ruled out enacting any major changes to the constitution before the November polls, despite mooting a possible referendum on amendments approved by parliament as early as next month.
Myanmar, formerly known as Burma and ruled by the British until 1948, was plunged into isolation by a military regime that seized power in 1962. It has won praise for enacting widespread economic and political reforms since it emerged from outright military rule in 2011, also drawing an influx of foreign investors to its untapped markets.
However, there are growing concerns its transition toward democracy is backsliding in certain areas, including human rights and press freedom.
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