Observers Lukewarm on Thein Sein, Suu Kyi Dialogue

By Kyaw Hsu Mon 3 March 2015

RANGOON — Political observers have criticized a meeting on constitutional and electoral matters between President Thein Sein and opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi for lacking transparency, stating that the outcome of the discussion should be made known to the public.

Held in Naypyidaw on Monday evening, Information Minister and presidential spokesman Ye Htut said the tête-à-tête—the sixth official private discussion between the President and the chairwoman of the National League for Democracy (NLD)—canvassed amendments to the constitution and the conduct of general elections slated for later this year.

No more information on the discussion was forthcoming in state-run media on Tuesday, which carried brief announcements and photographs of the pair.

“I think the President used to meet with Daw Aung San Suu Kyi during critical moments in order to ease tension, but as this meeting was not transparent, it seems more symbolic,” said Dr Khin Zaw Win, director of the Tampadipa Institute research group.

Khin Zaw Win added that he welcomed news of the meeting, but did not expect any political breakthroughs.

“Daw Suu said that she had been willing to accept an invitation from Thein Sein since late last year, so there are not many expectations from [this meeting],” he said, adding that similar discussions had failed to yield progress in political differences.

“It doesn’t matter how long they have been discussing things, what we want is the outcome.”

The President approved a referendum law in February, after domestic and international pressure to reform the country’s military-drafted 2008 constitution. Provisions that the NLD have sought to overturn include Article 59(f), which restricts Suu Kyi from contesting the presidency due to her two sons’ possession of foreign citizenship, and Article 436, which grants an effective military veto over constitutional amendments.

Political analyst Yan Myo Thein said it was hard to determine the merits of the meeting if the public was unaware whether the pair considered recent events in Burma, such as the current conflict in Laukkai and ongoing student protests.

“What I want is both President Thein Sein and Daw Aung San Suu Kyi to release their statements on these recent issues,” he said. “This is a critical moment for us. [Instead] the information released about this meeting is similar to the way the former military government released information.”

“This government has still many things to do. This makes it seem that the President wants to show off to the international community that he met with Aung San Suu Kyi whenever he needs to.”

Sai Nyunt Lwin, spokesperson for the Shan Nationalities Democratic Party, defended the decision for Thein Sein and Suu Kyi to meet behind closed doors, telling The Irrawaddy he expected discussions between the pair would continue to be fruitful.

“I am an optimist, I welcome this meeting,” he said. “I think they didn’t release many details about the discussion was because they may have had other issues to resolve in private.”