The Irrawaddy

Suu Kyi, Opposition Lawmakers Question 12-Party Talks Proposal

Opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, left, shakes hands with commander in chief Snr-Gen Min Aung Hlaing, at 14-party talks in Naypyidaw on Oct. 31, 2014. (Photo: The Irrawaddy)

Opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi has dismissed attempts by the Rangoon Division parliament to propose 12-party talks to resolve the issue of constitutional reform, while other opposition lawmakers also questioned the intentions of the local ruling party lawmakers.

She told Radio Free Asia on Wednesday that Union Solidarity Development Party (USDP) lawmakers in Rangoon Division were trying to stymie her attempts to meet with Burma’s key political players, rather than bring the controversial Constitution up for genuine discussion.

“When I asked for a four-way talks, it appeared as though 14-party talks would be held, then six-party talks were proposed, and now 12-party talks,” she told RFA. “I want to say, frankly, that they [lawmakers] are doing this with the intention of not holding real discussions.”

In recent days, a Rangoon Division cabinet member proposed holding 12-party charter reform talks and the local legislature approved it. The proposal will now be sent to President Thein Sein, who can either refer it to the Union Parliament with an added remark, or reject it.

Some Rangoon Division lawmakers have said they believe they are helping to address a looming political deadlock over charter reform after Thein Sein and Burma Army chief Min Aung Hlaing rejected a proposal by the Union Parliament late last month that called for six-party talks.

The proposal would have seen the president, army chief, the speakers of both Houses of Parliament, Suu Kyi and one representative of ethnic parties meet to discuss reforms to the unpopular military-drafted Constitution.

The latest proposal by Rangoon parliament calls for including six more ethnic representatives in the talks, supposedly because the Rangoon legislature—which like the Union Parliament is dominated by the USDP—believes this to be a more inclusive approach.

However, Ko Ni, a member of the Burma Lawyers’ Network and of the National League for Democracy’s constitutional review committee, questioned the local lawmakers’ intentions and said the proposal would not get far.

“It goes totally against to the decision of the Union Parliament. The minister who proposed it and the regional parliament speaker should know that it should not be brought up,” he said.

Nyo Nyo Thin, an independent lawmaker in Rangoon parliament, said six-party talks were the best way to address the issue of charter reform, adding that she believed that USDP lawmakers in Rangoon Division were proposing 12-party talks in order to obfuscate the process of holding political talks on the issue.

“I think the government is using our regional parliament to confuse the situation,” she said.

Suu Kyi has long called for a meeting with Thein Sein, Snr-Gen. Min Aung Hlaing and Union Parliament Speaker and USDP chairman Shwe Mann. Her calls were ignored until in late October—days before the visit of US President Obama—when the government hastily held a meeting with the four key players, the Upper House Speaker and nine representatives of the USDP and ethnic parties.

The meeting yielded no concrete discussions and only had symbolic value, Suu Kyi said afterward. Another 14-party meeting is scheduled for January but it seems unlikely that it will result in significant progress on charter reform.

The recent rejection of six-party talks has given rise to concerns that neither government nor army has any intention to amend the 2008 Constitution, which grants the army considerable political powers, such as a quarter of Parliament seats, and bans Suu Kyi from the presidency because her children are British nationals.

Sai Leik, the joint-secretary of the Shan National League for Democracy (SNLD), said the 14-party talks, which the SNLD leadership attended, had no political significance, adding that the party believes talks should start between Suu Kyi and a limited number of key political players, before including more participants, such as ethnic representatives.

More participants would render the meetings ineffective, Sai Leik said, adding that the government’s and USDP’s attempts to arrange talks involving numerous participants raises the question “whether the government is playing a political game or wants real changes.”

In recent months, USDP lawmakers in both Houses of Parliament have participated in discussions on charter reform and vague promises were made to study the issue, but no significant measures to address key undemocratic articles have come up.

In October, the USDP and army lawmakers voted down a proposal by the NLD calling for amendments to Article 436, a key clause blocking wider reforms to the charter.

Additional reporting by Kyaw Phyo Tha.