YANGON — With the National League for Democracy looking likely to gain enough seats in Myanmar’s Nov. 8 poll to form a government early next year, party leader Aung San Suu Kyi has signaled her intent to meet soon with President Thein Sein, military chief Senior General Min Aung Hlaing and parliamentary Speaker Shwe Mann. Even as vote counting continued on Wednesday, Suu Kyi requested the meeting, clearly in order to discuss the handover of power to a government that she has indicated she will run.
“We cannot say exactly when they will meet as the counting process is still going at the UEC [the government’s Union Election Commission],” Zaw Htay, a presidential aide, told the Nikkei Asian Review. “Perhaps it will be next week,” Zaw Htay added.
Letters from Suu Kyi to each of the three leaders requesting meetings to discuss “national reconciliation,” dated Nov. 10, were posted on the NLD Facebook page on the morning of Nov. 11. Their publication prompted swift replies — also on Facebook — from Ye Htut, the president’s spokesman, and from Shwe Mann.
The NLD said on Wednesday afternoon that Ye Htut, who is also Information Minister, passed on congratulations to the NLD from Thein Sein. “In honour of the citizens’ desire, the government will pursue a peaceful transfer in accordance with the legislated timeline,” Ye Htut said, according to the NLD.
But whether Suu Kyi’s request results in a single summit-style meeting between her and the three invitees, or a series of one-on-one meetings, remains to be seen.
“We cannot say yet about the format,” said Zaw Htay, asked if the president would agree to a meeting involving Shwe Mann, who was ousted as head of the ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party in a pre-election purge.
Shwe Mann and Suu Kyi had formed a loose political alliance dating back to 2013, a year after she entered parliament upon winning a seat in a by-election. The speaker backed the opposition leader’s campaign to amend Myanmar’s constitution that excludes nationals with foreign children or spouses from seeking the presidency.
The move is likely to have angered supporters of Thein Sein and top military brass. Shwe Mann sought to run his own allies as USDP election candidates — at the expense of those seen as close to Thein Sein — in the USDP’s ultimately disastrous election campaign.
Slow and steady
The official vote count has been widely criticized for its slow pace. By Wednesday evening, out of the 491 national parliament seats contested, the NLD had won 256 to a mere 21 for the USDP.
The rout — reinforced by a wave of confirmations by defeated candidates and the NLD’s own claims — puts Suu Kyi’s party on course to take between 75% and 80% of elected seats. The military retains an automatic allotment of 25% of all parliamentary seats including in the 664-seat bicameral national parliament, and controls key ministries such home affairs and defense.
Myanmar was ruled by the army for five decades up to the 2010 election and the surprise handover in early 2011 to a quasi-civilian government led by Thein Sein. That administration in turn undertook a series of political and economic reforms that saw free and fair by-elections in 2012 — with Suu Kyi gaining a seat in parliament 18 months after being released from house arrest — as well a massive jump in foreign investment and a steady increase in economic growth to around 8% a year as is expected for 2015.
Suu Kyi has said that any NLD-led government would retain some of Thein Sein’s policies — presumably something both sides will discuss during their upcoming meeting. The timing, however, should be sooner rather than later, said Khin Zaw Win, a political analyst.
“It is high time they all sit down,” he said, noting the slow pace of vote-counting amid clear signs of a big NLD win. “We have known since at least Monday that the writing is on the wall,” he said of the NLD’s sweeping result.
Suu Kyi had mentioned a government of national reconciliation at a pre-vote press conference in Yangon last week — although that came during her vow to position herself “above the president” and run the country in the event of a clear NLD victory.
“It is good she mentioned national reconciliation,” added analyst Khin Zaw Win. “But to be more than just rhetoric, that will mean surely including some USDP representatives in government.”
Speaking from the president’s office, Zaw Htay sidestepped the question of whether Thein Sein would be seeking some USDP representation in any Suu Kyi-led administration, saying only that the president would like to meet Suu Kyi “to discuss about the future of the country.”
Ye Htut meanwhile said the president’s office would “negotiate bilaterally” for a meeting with the aspiring leader once vote-counting had been completed, and reiterated earlier assurances that the government and the army would abide by the election results.
In a Facebook post, he wrote: “As the president repeated in his Nov. 6 speech, the government and the army will respect the result of the free and fair election. He also added that we will meet with political leaders for stability in the post-election transitional period…So, we have replied to Daw [an honorific] Aung San Suu Kyi this morning that we will negotiate bilaterally for the meeting after the UEC has finished its electoral processes.”Show