Myan­mar con­venes rare talks while Suu Kyi pushes for char­ter change


Myan­mar’s Pres­i­dent Thein Sein held rare talks Wed­nes­day with in­flu­en­tial al­lies and ri­vals in­clud­ing op­po­si­tion leader Aung San Suu Kyi as she in­ten­si­fies ef­forts to lift a con­sti­tu­tional ban on her pres­i­den­tial bid.

The long-awaited talks in the cap­i­tal Naypyi­daw, which fol­low a sim­i­lar meet­ing of key po­lit­i­cal fig­ures in Oc­to­ber, come as the coun­try braces for elec­tions seen as a key test of re­forms in the for­mer junta-run na­tion.

The closed-door talks — at­tended by the pres­i­dent, Suu Kyi, par­lia­men­tary speaker Shwe Mann and a few dozen other po­lit­i­cal fig­ures — touched on a land­mark draft cease­fire agree­ment forged last week with sev­eral eth­nic armed groups, Myan­mar’s In­for­ma­tion Min­is­ter Ye Htut told re­porters.

Dis­cus­sions will re­sume on Fri­day and be whit­tled down to a smaller group of six par­tic­i­pants, in­clud­ing Thein Sein and Suu Kyi, he added.

Changes to the con­sti­tu­tion will be on Fri­day’s agenda, “among many is­sues” in­clud­ing the sign- ing of a bind­ing na­tion­wide cease­fire — a prized aim of Thein Sein’s ad­min­is­tra­tion.

The NLD is ex­pected to hoover up votes in the elec­tion in Novem­ber, the first coun­try­wide vote that the party will have con­tested in 25 years.

De­spite her star power, Suu Kyi is banned from the top job un­der a pro­vi­sion in the junta-era con­sti­tu­tion bar­ring those with a for­eign spouse or chil­dren from the pres­i­dency. The 69-year-old’s two sons are Bri­tish, as was her late hus­band.

She has re­ceived a wide range of sup­port, in­clud­ing from US Pres­i­dent Barack Obama, for her move to change the con­sti­tu­tion — a char­ter she has de­cried as “un­just” and writ­ten specif­i­cally to keep her out of power.

But ob­servers say she has ac­cepted that it is un­likely she will be able to be­come pres­i­dent at this time.

Last year the NLD gained five mil­lion signatures — around 10 per­cent of the pop­u­la­tion — in sup­port of its bid to change an­other con­sti­tu­tional pro­vi­sion.

This en­shrines the mil­i­tary’s ef­fec­tive veto over any amend­ments to the char­ter by re­serv­ing them a quar­ter of par­lia­men­tary seats.

The army has in­di­cated it will op­pose any ef­forts to sig­nif­i­cantly change the con­sti­tu­tion.

A mil­i­tary MP said limited amend­ments were pos­si­ble but would not be made be­cause of mount­ing pres­sure.

The NLD mean­while has ad­mit­ted the mil­i­tary veto meant it could not win a par­lia­men­tary vote on the is­sue.

The coun­try’s pow­er­ful speaker, Shwe Mann, last year ruled out any ma­jor changes to the con­sti­tu­tion be­fore the Novem­ber polls, de­spite moot­ing a pos­si­ble ref­er­en­dum as early as May on amend­ments ap­proved by par­lia­ment.

Suu Kyi has pre­vi­ously pushed for “four-party” talks on the demo­cratic tran­si­tion, in­volv­ing just Thein Sein, the army chief Min Aung Hlaing and Shwe Mann.

The pres­i­dent has re­sisted those calls, say­ing it would ex­clude eth­nic mi­nori­ties.

The for­mer gen­eral has set his sights on an end to the eth­nic in­sur­gen­cies that have plagued the coun­try for around 60 years as a key goal of his ten­ure.

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