NAYPYIDAW — Opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi held a joint press conference with Burma’s Union Parliament Speaker Shwe Mann on Wednesday in which she said they were waiting for President Thein Sein to respond to a request to discuss constitutional reforms with him and Commander-in-Chief Minh Aung Hlaing.
Suu Kyi, the National League for Democracy (NLD) chairperson, suggested in November that such a four-party meeting could help resolve the political stalemate over constitutional reforms.
“Only the president could make it possible. It’s beyond my ability to bring those three together,” said she in response to the Irrawaddy’s question about the possibility of a meeting. “I proposed the meeting as I don’t want to see any political deadlocks,” Suu Kyi added.
“Only having dialogue helps achieve success,” said Shwe Mann, who recently indicated that he was ready to join such a meeting.
The 2008 Constitution was drafted by the then-military regime and is widely viewed as undemocratic. The charter gives the military direct control over a quarter of the legislative and gives the army effective veto power over key constitutional reforms, while Article 59 (f) prevents Suu Kyi from becoming president because her sons are British citizens.
Suu Kyi has frequently raised the need for reforming the charter, but most members of the ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), a political incarnation of the former junta, seem reluctant to support the changes.
In recent months, the NLD leader has become increasingly vocal on the issue and in February she announced she would work with the 88 Generation Students to demand reforms through ‘people’s power’ demonstrations.
USDP chairman Shwe Mann, who also eyes the presidency after the 2015 elections, has moved closer towards Suu Kyi in the past year, while both have drifted away from President Thein Sein and his government.
Suu Kyi said she and the speaker frequently met to discuss the interests of country. “We are rivals but not enemies. Even in our discussions, there are disagreements between us, but by negotiating we reached common ground,” she said.
“Yes, we met each other as colleagues for the Parliament and country,” Shwe Mann added, without elaborating.
He said the USDP would support changes to the Constitution, before adding, “But we also need to be careful, any amendments should not lead to bad consequences.”
On Wednesday morning, Thein Sein gave a speech to mark the third year anniversary of his reformist government, in which he stated that he would support “gentle” changes to Constitution. He said the military still has a political role to play in Burma during the democratic transition and completion of the peace process.
Asked about the president’s remarks about the military, Suu Kyi said the military’s role is to support a political system that the Burmese people prefer. “I’d rather see the army as professionals who the people love. [And] the peace process can be solved with political means,” she said.
The potential presidential contenders were also asked about their expectations about the forthcoming by-elections, which will be held in a few months’ time. Both said they want to win.
“But even if you won, how you did win is important,” Suu Kyi said, perhaps referring to the USDP’s victory in the rigged 2010 elections.
Shwe Mann responded, “I promise that USDP will try to win in free and fair way.”