President Defers Decision on Six-Party Talks

By Nobel Zaw 21 January 2015

RANGOON — President Thein Sein has continued to defer on six-party constitutional reform discussions, handballing the proposal back to the legislature with a statement issued to the Union Parliament on Monday.

Arguing that the six-party proposal lacked detail and a specific framework for how constitutional issues would be discussed, the President’s statement also suggested that the six-party proposal represented too narrow a cross-section of Burmese society for meaningful dialogue.

As the political discussions would have a national impact, it was “advisable that other people participate in addition to parliamentary representatives, the government and the military,” the statement read.

The six-party proposal was originally tabled last November by lawmaker Myint Tun of the ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), who urged a meeting between President Thein Sein, Burma Army Commander-in-Chief Min Aung Hlaing, the speakers of the Upper and Lower Houses of Parliament, National League for Democracy (NLD) Leader Aung San Suu Kyi and a member of the ethnic nationality parties to discuss constitutional reforms.

The proposal, unanimously endorsed by the Union Parliament, prompted a call for 12-party talks from the Rangoon Division Parliament, which was subsequently dismissed by the NLD as a stalling tactic, and a request for multi-party talks from the Sagaing Parliament, where lawmakers there hoped to expand local and ethnic representation in constitutional talks.

At the end of last month, over 10,000 people in the northern Shan State township of Naung Cho rallied against the six-party proposal, asking for more ethnic representation in charter discussions. The event was reported prominently in government newspapers, which rarely carry news on public protests.

In Monday’s statement, President Thein Sein said he was prepared to abide by the decision of the Union Parliament on constitutional matters, as long as reform was enacted according to the provisions of the 2008 military-drafted Constitution, and provided that lawmakers took the decisions of divisional parliaments and the desires of ethnic minorities into consideration.

NLD spokesman Nyan Win said that the statement showed that the President accepted the idea of six-party talks in principle, which was a sign of progress in establishment of a forum for constitutional discussion.

Political commentator Dr.Yan Myo Thein, on the other hand, told The Irrawaddy it appeared the government was deliberately stalling the proposal by continually requesting details of the framework.

“There are many difficult issues in the country, like amending the 2008 Constitution, negotiating a nationwide ceasefire agreement and ensuring the 2015 elections are free and fair. Each of these issues are difficult enough on their own to warrant [six-party] political dialogue. The government is deliberately postponing this dialogue by asking for more details,” he said.

Suu Kyi told media in Naypyidaw before Tuesday’s parliamentary session that the NLD would soon issue a formal response to the President’s letter.