RANGOON — Political and ethnic leaders have offered a lukewarm response to the latest round of 48-party dialogue with President Thein Sein, held in Naypyidaw on Wednesday.
Slated as a preliminary discussion ahead of long-awaited six-party talks on Friday, the talks included the president, parliamentary speakers, opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, Union Election Commission chair Tin Aye, military representatives and a large contingent of ethnic lawmakers.
The discussion mirrored earlier 48-party talks held on Jan. 12, with the president once again emphasizing the importance of the upcoming general election and steps towards a nationwide ceasefire agreement, as ethnic representatives made the case for constitutional reforms in the hope of establishing a federal system of government.
Once again, participants called on the government to back dialogue with concessions to opposition and ethnic party demands.
“It all depends on their will to implement proposals,” said Khin Maung Swe, the chairman of the National Democratic Front. “If there is only discussion, without any changes, there will be no benefit.”
The government is expected to discuss constitutional changes at this week’s six party talks, and participants in Wednesday’s meeting told The Irrawaddy they believe the government would announce amendment proposals after Thingyan.
According to Khin Maung Swe, members of the government told the meeting that all political parties shared responsibility for keeping peace ahead of the general election, referring to recent student protests against the National Education Law and the ongoing conflict in Laukkai.
“In my view point, this government is trying to do something to bolster their image before they have to fight the election,” he told The Irrawaddy.
The Shan Nationalities League for Democracy (SNLD), Shan State’s most popular political party, did not attend Wednesday’s talks after Tin Aye refused to allow a substitute for party leader Khun Htun Oo, who was reportedly travelling and did not in any case view the talks as worthwhile. Sai Leik, an SNLD spokesman, said that his party was broadly indifferent to the talks, which he said were “meaningless” in terms of political outcomes.
“All ethnic groups in Burma want a democratic, federal system,” he said. “To make this happen, we need constitutional amendments. The government has still not said which parts of the Constitution they will seek to amend.”
According to the state-run Global Light of Myanmar newspaper, the president began Wednesday’s proceedings by expressing his believe that all registered political parties would contest this year’s election, after Suu Kyi once again raised the prospect of a National League for Democracy boycott in a weekend interview.
Snr-Gen Min Aung Hlaing was attending Navy fleet exercises off the Arakan coast and was absent for the talks, sending deputy Lt-Gen Soe Win in his stead. The commander-in-chief is expected to return to Naypyidaw for Friday’s six-party talks.