NAYPYIDAW — Opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi has accused President Thein Sein of ignoring proposals for a limited dialogue among herself and a handful of senior government leaders and politicians, following the president’s convening of a 48-party meeting here on Monday.
The president has so far declined to hold four-party talks, as proposed by Suu Kyi, or six-party talks put forward by Parliament, both of which would put reform of Burma’s controversial Constitution at the top of the agenda, as a centerpiece of peace negotiations with the country’s ethnic armed groups and the broader democratic reform program.
The opposition leader said the government had sought to “avoid” the six-party proposal by instead convening 14-party talks in late October of last year, and an even larger gathering of 48 politicians and other political players for talks on Monday.
Asked about the difference between the meetings in October and on Monday, Suu Kyi wryly replied that “today’s meeting had more people.”
“Is it a meeting between government and political parties? I am not clear on what the principle behind that meeting was,” Suu Kyi told the press at her residence in Naypyidaw on Monday after the meeting. “It is a little difficult to understand. They are neither party leaders nor chairs of parliamentary committees. I told the president, the meeting shouldn’t be an excuse to avoid the six-party talks. He didn’t respond to anything I said.”
The 14-party talks, held on Oct. 31, were criticized as political theater in some quarters, having failed to produce a breakthrough and coming less than two weeks before world leaders arrived in Burma for two regional summits.
On Tuesday, Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) party released a statement saying the 48-party discussion had likewise been “hardly a fruitful one.”
The NLD highlighted constitutional reform as of paramount importance in ensuring the success of Burma’s democratic transition.
It said Suu Kyi at the meeting had conveyed a view that reforms had stalled due to a lack of political will from government leaders, unbridled corruption and a failure by the government to collaborate with Parliament, including by acting on the legislature’s endorsement of six-party talks.
Information Minister Ye Htut, however, said Monday’s talks were not intended to find concrete solutions to the country’s problems, and were rather a brainstorming session to be followed by further discussions.
“We explored ideas for what we have to do. Then, we’ll present those ideas at the next meeting. Then, we’ll present them to other concerned parties. Participants discussed and exchanged views at [Monday’s] meeting. Ideas will be brought together at the next meeting,” said Ye Htut during a separate press conference at the Ministry of Information on Monday.
Under Parliament’s six-party proposal, Suu Kyi, Thein Sein, Lower House parliamentary Speaker Shwe Mann and his Upper House counterpart Khin Aung Myint, a representative of the country’s ethnic minorities and Burma Army commander in chief Snr-Gen Min Aung Hlaing would meet to discuss constitutional reform.
Among the participants at Monday’s meeting were Min Aung Hlaing, vice presidents Sai Mauk Kham and Nyan Tun, Shwe Mann and 28 ethnic affairs ministers, as well as leaders of ethnic political parties and the general secretary of the ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), Htay Oo.
In a transcript of Thein Sein’s opening remarks at Monday’s meeting, the state-run New Light of Myanmar newspaper on Tuesday quoted the president as saying, “Constitutional amendment will be based on the results of political dialogues and peace process in line with the 2008 State Constitution.”
The president also looked ahead to elections later this year that he said would be “a remarkable milestone in the history of Myanmar,” and emphasized the importance of signing a nationwide ceasefire with Burma’s many ethnic armed resistance groups.
“In spite of different viewpoints, opinions and standards for internal peace process, there are progresses and concerted efforts are being made for signing of nationwide ceasefire agreement by all as the NCA is vital to move forward to political dialogues which aims to build the union based on flourishing democracy and federalism,” Thein Sein was quoted as saying.
But the NLD rejected the notion that a nationwide ceasefire was necessary before political dialogue between the government and opposition could begin, saying: “Talks on the peace process and national reconciliation should proceed at the same time. National reconciliation talks like the six-party talks should not be postponed using the peace process as an excuse.”
Ye Htut said those in attendance on Monday expressed support for a deadline on signing a ceasefire of Feb. 12, which is celebrated as Union Day in Burma.
“All the participants welcomed that he would like to have the ceasefire signed on February 12,” Ye Htut said. “They discussed the things to be done. They discuss if they should wait for the inclusion of all or sign the ceasefire accord first, and hold a dialogue while keeping the door open for the rest.”
Shwe Mann, meanwhile, was due to meet privately with ethnic leaders at the Parliament building on Tuesday.