President Waived US Trip to Monitor Sensitive Transition: Ye Htut

By The Irrawaddy 15 February 2016

RANGOON — Burma’s president cancelled a planned trip to attend the US-ASEAN summit beginning in California this week due to the delicate nature of the country’s political transition, according to presidential spokesperson Ye Htut.

On Thursday evening, the president’s office announced that vice president Nyan Tun would attend the Feb. 15-16 summit in place of Thein Sein, giving no reason for the outgoing president’s abrupt change of plans.

In an interview with the BBC’s Burmese service on Saturday, Ye Htut referred to speculation of instability during the current handover, with the new government’s term set to begin on April 1.

The spokesperson, who is also information minister, did not elaborate on the potential instability but said, “in case something bad happens, [the president] has to be here to make important decisions.”

“It is more important for him to be here than in California to attend the summit. That’s why he decided not to join the meeting,” Ye Htut said.

“Something could happen in the country. I’m not saying anything will happen exactly. But as the head of state… he thought it would be better for him to be here rather than in California.”

Thein Sein’s last minute cancelation comes as uncertainty continues to shroud reported negotiations between the military and the National League for Democracy (NLD) over the presidency.

With Aung San Suu Kyi constitutionally barred from the position, speculation has centered on whether the clause could be sidestepped, with the consent of the military, to allow the NLD leader to formally lead the country.

Parliament will not begin the process of considering presidential nominees until March 17, potentially buying the NLD more time to negotiate with the military, according to observers.

On Friday, Reuters reported that the army was demanding the positions of chief minister in Arakan, Shan and Kachin states, as well as Rangoon Division, according to two unnamed sources.

The NLD’s appointment of former Union Parliament Speaker Shwe Mann to lead a legislative advisory panel earlier this month may have further fuelled mistrust in military circles, the news agency reported.

Shwe Mann was ousted as ruling party chair last August in a move many chalked up to an apparent falling out with Thein Sein and the former general’s ties to Suu Kyi.