Thein Sein Hosts Rare Suu Kyi Talks Amid Constitution Debate

By Aung Hla Tun 3 March 2015

YANGON — President Thein Sein had a rare meeting on Monday with opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi to discuss constitutional changes and the first election under the country’s new democratic system, a minister said.

It was the fifth round of talks between the two since the Nobel laureate’s release from house arrest in 2010 and coincided with a sharpening debate over a constitution that grants a powerful political role to the military but bars Suu Kyi from becoming president.

“It was a one-on-one meeting and they discussed matters concerning constitutional amendments and holding a free and fair general election,” presidential spokesman and information minister Ye Htut said on his Facebook page late on Monday. He did not elaborate.

Thein Sein approved a constitutional referendum law last month following domestic and international pressure to reform a political system long stacked in favour of the military. The army oversaw 49 years of brutal rule and left the Southeast Asian country impoverished and chronically underdeveloped.

Suu Kyi and her National League for Democracy (NLD) party want to change the constitution, which the military drafted with a clause preventing anyone with a spouse or children of foreign citizenship from becoming president.

Suu Kyi, the daughter of late independence hero Aung San, has British sons and remains hugely popular in Burma. The NLD doubts any referendum this year would address the exclusion clause.

Thein Sein’s success in convincing Suu Kyi to enter a political arena controlled by the same generals who for years had persecuted her was among several surprise moves since 2011 that saw him praised as a reformer.

However, she may need to be convinced to run again. Suu Kyi said in December it was “too early” for the NLD to commit to the election, slated for the end of this year. That followed the government’s lukewarm response to an NLD petition backed by five million people in favour of charter change.

Political analyst Yan Myo Thein said he hoped Thein Sein had good intentions and that his holding of the meeting was not a ploy to reduce political pressure.

“The most important thing I hope is that the government doesn’t use this opportunity just for creating breathing space,” he said.

“I hope this meeting will result in something that can benefit the entire country.”