Burma election: Aung San Suu Kyi edges closer to power after first meeting with army chief - a month on from landslide victory

Meeting indicates that the military regime have decided to swallow their democratic medicine and allow the results of the poll to lead to a peaceful transition of power for the first time in the country’s 70-year history

Peter Popham
Wednesday 02 December 2015 19:19
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Aung San Suu Kyi with Senior General Min Aung Hlaing at Wednesday’s meeting
Aung San Suu Kyi with Senior General Min Aung Hlaing at Wednesday’s meeting

Almost a month after winning a landslide victory in Burma’s general election, a beaming Aung San Suu Kyi had her first one-on-one meeting with the most powerful man in the country – army chief Senior General Min Aung Hlaing.

The general, who took over from former dictator Senior General Than Shwe in 2011, smiled broadly as he greeted the chairwoman of the National League for Democracy (NLD) outside army headquarters in the capital, Naypyidaw, and escorted her inside.

The two spoke privately for more than an hour before the general ushered her out. A terse, two-paragraph statement following the meeting said: “Both sides agreed to follow the people’s wish to collaborate for the country’s stability, rule of law, national unity and development.”

The meeting followed a 45-minute encounter in the morning between Ms Suu Kyi and President Thein Sein, the former general who in 2011 began the reform process that enabled the NLD to fight last month’s election in which the party he heads, the Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), a proxy for the army, won just over one-tenth the number of seats won by the NLD, gaining a mere 6.4 per cent of the total vote.

The two largely ceremonious meetings indicate that the army and its political proxy have decided to swallow their democratic medicine and allow the results of the election to lead to a peaceful transition of power, which would be the first such hand-over in Burma’s nearly 70-year history.

Ye Htut, President Thein Sein’s spokesman, who attended the meeting with his leader, told reporters: “The main point… was to talk about a smooth transition and transfer of power to the newly elected government and to discuss mutual co-operation in the future.”

Another goal, he said, was “to ease people’s concerns”. He added that the two leaders “talked about establishing a new tradition that has never existed before in Burma: how to transfer the duties of the head of state systematically”.

Ms Suu Kyi requested the meetings with the two top men on 11 November when her party’s triumph became clear, but it was only this Monday that they granted her an appointment. The apparently languid progress towards the handover reflects the constitutional stipulation – described by Ms Suu Kyi as “silly” – which requires the incumbent government to remain in office until late March, by which time the new parliament will have met to elect the new president, in whom executive power is vested.

But the “silliness” of the constitution is only one of Ms Suu Kyi’s problems with it, and since becoming an MP she has made it clear that she urgently wants to amend it. Others issues include the fact that it awards a quarter of parliamentary seats to unelected soldiers, who attend in uniform; that the army retains control of key ministries including home and defence; and, crucially, that it bars from presidential office anyone whose spouse or children hold foreign passports.

Ms Suu Kyi is thus barred from becoming president on account of her two half-British sons. She has suggested that she will get around that problem by ruling “above” the President, with a proxy figure in the office who will answer to her.

She is said to have decided who that person is to be, but the identity remains a secret. Speculation on the question is rampant.

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