The Unpublicized Summit in Naypyidaw

By The Irrawaddy 9 February 2017

RANGOON — An unpublicized meeting took place between top leaders last Saturday in Naypyidaw.
State Counselor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and Snr-Gen Min Aung Hlaing held a private meeting. Some senior officials from both sides also attended. But state-run media made no mention of the summit.

In the past, there have been many highly publicized meetings between the two leaders, and there have been some low-key get-togethers that were not publicized. Perhaps the State Counselor and military chief could not always reach an agreement or they did not want to smile for reporters’ cameras at times.

On Saturday, Snr-Gen Min Aung Hlaing reportedly asked Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and the NLD government to convene a meeting of the National Defense and Security Council (NDSC) as soon as possible. No NDSC meetings have taken place since the NLD government took office one year ago.

The 11-member NDSC was created during former President U Thein Sein’s administration and enshrined in the 2008 Constitution. The NDSC is empowered to formulate policy regarding certain military and security issues, including the right to petition the President to declare a nationwide state of emergency.

The council members include the president, two vice presidents, speakers of the upper and lower houses, the army’s commander-in-chief, the deputy commander-in-chief, the foreign minister, and the ministers for defense, home affairs, and border affairs. The military controls a 6-5 majority in the council.

Soon after clashes began in Northern Arakan State in October, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and Snr-Gen Min Aung Hlaing held a highly publicized security meeting together at the presidential residence in Naypyidaw. News of the summit was published on the front page of state-run newspapers. However, the October meeting was not an official NDSC meeting.

Not all 11 members of the NDSC were invited to attend.

On behalf of the military, army chief Snr-Gen Min Aung Hlaing, deputy army chief Gen Soe Win, defense minister Gen Sein Win, and minister of home affairs Lt-Gen Kyaw Swe all were in attendance.

But from the civilian side, only two NDSC members were present—President Htin Kyaw and Daw Aung San Suu Kyi. U Kyaw Tint Swe, the Union minister for the Office of the State Counselor, attended the meeting as the only non-NDSC member.

In January, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi appointed U Thaung Tun, a veteran diplomat, as national security advisor. The position is equivalent to a minister-level position. The appointment did not go down well with the top brass of the armed forces, and it was seen as an attempt by the NLD government to circumvent the supreme council.

Some political observers believe the relationship between Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and Snr-Gen Min Aung Hlaing has deteriorated over the last few months.

Following the appointment of a national security advisor, former information minister U Ye Htut penned an analysis in Singapore’s Today Online. In the article he said, “Unfortunately, Mr. Thaung Tun’s appointment puts him on a collision course with the all-powerful military.”

He continued, “By tradition, internal security has been the sole domain of the Myanmar military, with the commander-in-chief of the Armed Forces serving as the principal advisor to the government on these issues.”

“There are concerns that this could point to a looming clash between military leaders and Ms. Suu Kyi,” the ex-information minister wrote.

If the NDSC were to convene now, the NLD government would control only five of the 11 key positions. These include President Htin Kyaw, Vice President Henry Van Thio, and the house speakers Win Myint and Mahn Win Khaing Than. Daw Aung San Suu Kyi also gets a seat on the NDSC in her capacity as foreign minister.

Is it any coincidence that the former ruling party, the Union Solidarity Development Party (USDP), recently called on the government to convene an NDSC meeting?

The USDP has asked for the NDSC to intervene in security and rule-of-law issues that are now facing the country.

The USDP has raised questions about accepting Rohingya refugees back into the country, about the formation of the Arakan State Advisory Commission, and about the recent national security advisor appointment.

It has said that people’s socio-economic security and state security were weakening.

The USDP and its allies released a joint statement that said the current government has ignored parliamentary discussions, political parties’ concerns, and good-faith suggestions about the formation of the Kofi Annan-led Arakan State Advisory Commission.

“The government failed to consult the NDSC while making an important decision on the formation of the commission,” they said. The recent national security advisor appointment was made by the Union government without consultation as well, they said.

The NLD government has not responded to their request.