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ELECTION 2015

‘Collaboration’ the Word as Suu Kyi Meets Thein Sein, Army Chief

Aung San Suu Kyi meets Burma’s two most powerful men for separate talks amid a power transition that may not be complete until early April.


NAYPYIDAW — National League for Democracy (NLD) chairwoman Aung San Suu Kyi met separately Wednesday with President Thein Sein and Burma Army commander-in-chief Snr-Gen Min Aung Hlaing in Naypyidaw, with representatives for the two men saying avenues of collaboration were discussed amid a power transition that may not be complete until early April.

The twin dialogues, at the Presidential Palace and Burma Army headquarters, respectively, came in response to Suu Kyi’s request for a meeting on the basis of “national reconciliation,” which she made two days after her party won a landslide victory in Burma’s Nov. 8 general election.

Following the NLD leader’s afternoon meeting with Min Aung Hlaing, the Burma Army released a brief two-paragraph statement on the closed-door talks.

“During the meeting, both sides agreed to follow the people’s wish to collaborate for the country’s stability, rule of law, national unity and development,” read the statement.

The 2 pm meeting was the first-ever bilateral sit-down between Suu Kyi and the commander-in-chief since the latter was appointed in 2011.

Their ability to work together is seen as crucial to the success of any NLD-led government, owing to the military’s formidable political prerogatives, including a guaranteed 25 percent allotment of seats in Parliament and control over three key ministries.

In contrast to her morning meeting with Thein Sein, when presidential spokesman Ye Htut received Suu Kyi outside the Presidential Palace before ushering her in to see the president behind closed doors, a beaming Min Aung Hlaing greeted the NLD chairwoman personally and the two leaders shook hands while posing for photographs, before retreating into a meeting room.

The pair emerged about an hour later, with Min Aung Hlaing seeing Suu Kyi off under the military headquarters’ portico, where her car was waiting.

Ye Htut and NLD central committee member Win Myint sat in on the morning confab, while her discussion with Min Aung Hlaing was a one on one.

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Ye Htut told reporters in the capital that the 45-minute discussion between Thein Sein and Suu Kyi was focused mainly on how to ensure a peaceful transfer of power to the incoming NLD government, with the president agreeing to the talks in order to ease public concern about the transition.

Ye Htut added that matters high on Suu Kyi’s list of issues to be addressed, such as amending Burma’s 2008 Constitution and reducing the role of the military in politics, were not discussed.

“Both sides talked about establishing a new tradition that has never existed before in Burma: how to transfer the duties of the head of state systematically,” Ye Htut said, while refusing to go into specifics on the content of the discussion.

“They talked about preparations for the power transition. They exchanged views on how to make it happen,” he added.

“They discussed how to maintain stability between now and the time when the current government’s term is over [in late March].We have already opened a communication channel between the government and the NLD,” he told the media.

Ye Htut said the president also congratulated Suu Kyi on her party’s commanding election victory, with the NLD all but obliterating Thein Sein’s ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) at the polls.

“Daw Aung San Suu Kyi also thanked him for making the election free and fair, as he had promised, and for allowing her to be involved in politics since 2012,” said the presidential spokesman, who is also Burma’s outgoing information minister.

Unlike her pioneering dialogue with Min Aung Hlaing, Wednesday’s morning meeting was just the latest between Suu Kyi and the outgoing president, who first met four months after Thein Sein took office in 2011. That sit-down is believed to have paved the way for the NLD to rejoin electoral politics, which the party did for a 2012 by-election that saw Suu Kyi enter Parliament for the first time. Since then, the two leaders have met a total of six times.

Suu Kyi’s NLD secured an outright majority in both houses of Parliament last month, ensuring that the party has the seats to select two of three vice presidents in a parliamentary vote due early next year. It will also be able to choose the president from the trio of vice presidents, though Suu Kyi herself is barred from the country’s highest elected office due to a constitutional clause that prohibits the president from having a foreign spouse or children. Both of Suu Kyi’s children are British nationals, as was her late husband.

At time of publication, the NLD had not released a statement on Wednesday’s meetings.

This story was updated at 6:28 pm to include information on Suu Kyi’s afternoon meeting with Min Aung Hlaing.

Kyaw Phyo Tha reported from Rangoon.