‘We Need Righteous People Who Are Respected Politically and Socially’

By The Irrawaddy 7 March 2015

On this week’s edition of Dateline Irrawaddy, The Irrawaddy’s English edition editor Kyaw Zwa Moe is joined by Dr Khin Zaw Win of the Tampadipa Institute and political commentator Dr Yan Myo Thein to discuss the implications of the latest tête-à-tête between Thein Sein and Aung San Suu Kyi.

Kyaw Zwa Moe: On Mar. 2, President U Thein Sein and Daw Aung San Suu Kyi met again for around 30 minutes. It was their sixth meeting in the past four years. It was reported that they frankly discussed constitutional amendments and the holding of free and fair elections. We’ll be discussing the reason behind these discussions, the likely outcome and the difficulties facing other political parties. Dr Khin Zaw Win of the Tampadipa Institute and political commentator Dr Yan Myo Thein will join me for the discussion. I am The Irrawaddy English edition editor Kyaw Zwa Moe.

President U Thein Sein and Daw Aung San Suu Kyi met for 30 minutes, which is their sixth bilateral meeting, as far as we know, since 2011. So, it can be said that Thein Sein is meeting Suu Kyi frequently. Their meeting, even a photo of the two holding a meeting in the newspapers, has the potential to arouse political expectations. People say that the government is taking advantage of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi. What is your assessment?

Khin Zaw Win: Academics say that there is a lack of trust in Burma. No matter what the government does, many people do not have trust in the government. This is the public’s perception of the government. I don’t see the discussion as taking advantage of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi. They have so far met six times. Better that the two meet frequently, I think. Though we don’t know the details of their discussion, the fact that the president meets the opposition leader is a good thing. Just for reference, when they met some months ago [during the 14-party talks], each of them were only able to speak for ten minutes. Now, she could meet him for 30 minutes, so the meeting was longer.

KZM: Ko Yan Myo Thein, 30 minutes is not a long amount of time for a political discussion. The two reportedly discussed two important issues. What results do you think the meeting may deliver?

Yan Myo Thein: Firstly, the two only met for six times in the four years since 2011. Considering the political landscape of our country, it is a very small number. Secondly, I’m afraid that Daw Aung San Suu Kyi is being exploited. Daw Aung San Suu Kyi has said that she is willing to be exploited if it serves the interests of people and the country. Suppose Daw Aung San Suu Kyi is being exploited now. Then we need to see if it is benefiting the country and the people. The country and the people became poorer after the government took power in 2011. So, we need to say explicitly that even if we assume that Daw Aung San Suu Kyi is being exploited, it is not benefiting the country and the people.

KZM: So, you two have different views. There have been more political crises here. There has been fighting between the government’s army and rebel groups. And no remarkable progress has been made with the peace process. The two have met during such crises. But then, if they are holding dialogue, they should make public when they will meet, what they have discussed and when they will meet again so that we, the people, may see political progress. If nothing is made public, how can we measure the impact of the meeting?

KZW: As I have said, the government is under a lot of pressure. The president might have a certain expectation to meet the opposition leader Daw Aung San Suu Kyi. But, we don’t know what they discussed. My view is that it is not important whether the discussion is 15 minutes or 30 minutes long, but if the two can seriously discuss important issues, there may be a result. The government wants to ease the pressure. As for Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, it would have been a chance for her to discuss the changes she wants to see.

KZM: Daw Aung San Suu Kyi has called for four-party talks. The Union Parliament also called for six-party talks. Then the government held 12-party and 14-party talks. So, it seems that the government is intentionally going against them. Ko Yan Myo Thein, do you think dialogue will take place in Burma?

YMT: As far as I know, there has never been real dialogue since independence in our country. That’s why the country has found itself in present situation, I believe. As Ko Kyaw Zwa Moe has discussed, my view is that we need to bring about a political dialogue with a vision. Here we need a new political roadmap for our country. Because, the political roadmap we are using is the one that was created after Debayin Incident in 2003. We are undergoing a democratic transition. We are in a transition, but the roadmap we are using is an old one. This is something we need to take into consideration, I think.

KZM: To help create new political landscape and political dialogue, what is needed?

YMT: I think an inclusive political dialogue which involves the military, government leaders, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and ethnic leaders should be held as soon as possible.

KZM: It can take place only when two or three sides have the will to do so. What if they don’t have that will?

YMT: When I look back at why political dialogue could not be held throughout successive periods since independence, I found that it was because of the government. Only when the government takes the lead role and willingly tries to solve the problem can political dialogue bear fruits. When a government holds dialogue only to ease the challenges and crises it is facing, it will walk away from dialogue when these problems ease.

KZM: Dialogue, I mean a real dialogue, which can provide solution to political problems, not a mere discussion that lasts 30 or 40 minutes or whatever—I am sure that we have not seen that kind of dialogue. If the government is not willing to hold discussions, as Ko Yan Myo Thein has said, what can we do to bring them to the negotiating table? It has been a question since 1988. Is there any way?

KZW: U Thein Sein is in his final year of the presidential term, he is not very successful and his government is facing a lot of pressure. To be frank, we can’t expect much during his remaining term.

KZM: Expectations, you mean…

KZW: It is unlikely that he will see other achievements in his remaining term. The election is months away. What Ko Kyaw Zwa has asked is more interesting. The dialogue will be just for show if there is no genuine political will. Daw Aung San Suu Kyi has called for four-party talks, but she could only hold a bilateral meeting. We need to see the example set by student protestors. There was a four-party meeting, but was it meaningful? Regarding the case of student protestors, they took to the streets to show up their strength, didn’t they? It is difficult, however, for us to see a similar situation in politics.

KZM: Is that saddening for Burmese people?

KZW: If political parties and people can collectively and strongly call for dialogue and results, it would be good.

KZM: Ko Yan Myo Thein, as we have said, the government is the most important stakeholder. It must start the moves, but when it doesn’t make the moves, the other party needs to take the step. But, what if both parties take the step and there is no move? What I mean is, what might Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and ethnic leaders need to do bring the government to the negotiating table? What are the shortcomings? Is it because they can’t effectively push the government?

YMT: I remember the words Daw Aung San Suu Kyi said regarding students protesting against the National Education Law. Daw Aung San Suu Kyi said it is against democratic practice to put pressure on people to enter into a dialogue. I share her view. If somebody does something only when he is put under pressure, then it is not a democratic transition. It is not a democratic culture. For the time being, the current government and military leaders need to acknowledge this view. They need to carefully assess their concerns over this view and start the dialogue. This is my personal view. I don’t think a formal meeting is needed immediately, but I think many informal meetings are needed. The mediators must be neutral and impartial. At present, looking at the political landscape of our country, there are hardly righteous entities and individuals who are respected and valued people. In the past, there were people like Thakhin Kodaw Hmime. We should try to find mediators like him.

KZM: Is there anyone like him?

KZW: Like people in the media?

KZM: It is not for the media to play that role, I think. But we need righteous people who are respected politically and socially, like statesmen. Is there any such person in our country?

KZW: Just look at the ages of the president and Daw Aung San Suu Kyi. There is no one older than these two.

YMT: I don’t mean the mediator must be a person, it may be an organization. It may be the media, as you said. But the important thing is the mediator must be an entity and individual that people respect and trust in.

KZM: I think that the current government and military leaders are even more important than the people. They are the most important ones.

YMT: The mediator needs to win their trust.

KZM: He must be someone who can persuade and convince them.

YMT: If they only want their supporters involved in the way they consider things, we can do nothing. My view is that only when we can create a win-win situation can our younger generations be more successful, more prosperous and more developed. Unless and until we can create such a situation, the younger generation would put the blame on us.

KZW: A popular spiritual leader could take the role of mediator, can’t he? For example, Ashin Nyanisara from Buddhist side. Recently, they elected a Catholic Cardinal, Charles Maung Bo. The government could arrange three-party talks with them while honoring them.

KZM: To review our discussion, the political landscape of Burma still shows no signs of relief for us. The dialogue we want seems far away. Thank you all.