RANGOON — President Thein Sein pledged to take the concerns of Burma’s dozens of political parties into “serious consideration,” but urged patience in addressing the country’s challenges as he met representatives of those parties on Monday in Rangoon.
“I’ll bear in mind the issues raised by [political] parties and give them serious consideration. There are things that can’t be done fast. Some things will have to take time,” he said at the conclusion of the meeting, held at the Rangoon Division parliament building.
A total of 137 politicians from 71 political parties attended the meeting, with several representatives afforded about five minutes to voice their concerns on a range of issues, including reform of the country’s Constitution, upcoming national elections and the government’s ongoing peace negotiations with ethnic armed groups.
“The 2015 elections can be free and fair only if a peace deal is signed soon, I think. I want to see decentralization of divisional and state governments,” said Sai Ai Bao from the Shan Nationalities Democratic Party (SNDP).
In a wide-ranging discussion on Monday, the ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) called for making the voting process as convenient as possible, including by increasing the number of polling stations nationwide; the National Unity Party (NUP) and Bamar People’s Party highlighted land confiscation as a major ongoing concern that has seen several farmers and activists jailed for protesting land-grabs; and the Shan Nationalities League for Democracy (SNLD) offered its perspective on the peace process and as yet unrealized efforts to reach a nationwide ceasefire agreement.
Khun Thein Aung from the Union Pa-O National Organization told The Irrawaddy: “I would like to present the land [confiscation problem] of farmers to the president. Though there has been a certain progress in the peace process, [peace] has yet to be achieved. As I was only allowed five minutes, I could not discuss thoroughly, so I got straight to the point.”
The meeting was held in two parts, with the first portion offering the parties a chance to address their concerns to the president. The second section, after Thein Sein left the meeting, allowed attendees to continue a discussion on the general election with Union Election Commission (UEC) chairman Tin Aye.
“Many farmers are landless as they have got their lands confiscated,” a representative from the Bamar People’s Party said at the meeting, adding that transparency by the UEC was necessary to ensure credible elections.
Notable in its absence was any discussion of Burma’s Rohingya Muslims, who have made international headlines in recent weeks as boats full of the minority group have been abandoned at sea by human traffickers amid a regional crackdown on the trade in human beings. No political party representative made mention of the Rohingya or their exodus from Burma, which has peaked in recent years as persecution and institutionalized discrimination in western Arakan State has deepened.
The issue has ensnared Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia, whose governments have turned the boats back out to sea in recent weeks, prompting condemnation from human rights groups and finger-pointing among the Asean member states.