At High-Level Dialogue, Six Parties Agree to More Talks

By The Irrawaddy 10 April 2015

NAYPYIDAW / RANGOON — A six-party dialogue on constitutional reform and upcoming national elections, involving some of Burma’s biggest political players, concluded on Friday with the government calling the meeting “a success” and an ethnic leader included in the talks saying more discussions would come.

The meeting, involving President Thein Sein, opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, parliamentary leaders, an ethnic representative and the Burma Army commander in chief Min Aung Hlaing, was convened in Naypyidaw on Friday.

The President’s Office, quoting presidential spokesman Ye Htut, said a timetable for the next meeting had been agreed, though no date was provided. Ye Htut said the talks would resume sometime after Parliament reconvenes.

The legislature is on break until after the Buddhist New Year, which officially concludes on April 21.

At Friday’s meeting, “all participants freely and openly discussed in a brotherly way and reached agreement,” the President’s Office quoted Ye Htut as saying, though the specifics of that agreement were not immediately clear.

Aye Maung, the chairman of the Arakan National Party who was designated to represent ethnic minorities’ interests at the talks, said amendments to the country’s controversial military-drafted Constitution and elections due late this year were the primary topics addressed on Friday.

“But [discussion was] not thorough on constitutional fixes as we will discuss during the next round of meetings. We met today because Parliament requested it. Parliament has to submit details on constitutional amendments before we discuss it at the next meeting.”

Upper House Speaker Khin Aung Myint and his Lower House counterpart Shwe Mann were the designated representatives of Parliament, which first endorsed the six-party talks in November.

Suu Kyi, who has long-called for four-party talks but on Thursday told media she was satisfied with the six-party format, did not offer immediate comment following the meeting.

She has been campaigning for changes to the Constitution, including the removal of a clause that currently bars her from presidential eligibility and another that grants the military an effective veto over amendments to most of the charter.

The opposition leader originally pitched a four-party dialogue that did not include the Upper House speaker or an ethnic representative.

Like Suu Kyi, ethnic minorities have major objections to the Constitution, and are pushing for changes that would introduce a federal system in Burma, giving them greater control over regional governance and natural resources.

Friday’s high-level meeting followed talks earlier this week involving dozens of ethnic leaders and several of the six-party dialogue’s participants. It comes one week after Suu Kyi told Reuters that her National League for Democracy (NLD) party had not ruled out a boycott of the 2015 election, and called Thein Sein’s government a “hardline regime,” reflecting the feeling of many observers that Burma’s once-vaunted democratic reform program has stalled.