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Suu Kyi meets Myanmar president, army chief for power shift talks

President Thein Sein meeting with Aung San Suu Kyi in Naypyidaw on December 2, 2015 (AFP Photo/MYANMAR NEWS AGENCY

By Hla-Hla Htay

Naypyidaw (Myanmar) (AFP) – Myanmar’s democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi held talks Wednesday with the president and military chief about the handover of power, the first such discussions since her opposition party’s election triumph.

Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) party won nearly 80 percent of contested seats in a November 8 election that appears set to end the military’s decades-long chokehold on the country.

Immediately after the poll she had appealed for “national reconciliation” talks with President Thein Sein and the powerful army chief.

Both men have congratulated her on the NLD’s victory and vowed to ensure a smooth transition of power to an elected opposition — an unprecedented act in the country’s history.

But opposition supporters remain wary of a military that has duped them before and retains significant political clout, including filling a quarter of all parliamentary seats.

Suu Kyi, 70, is also barred from the presidency by the constitution, while new NLD lawmakers are not due to take their seats until at least February, making for a nervous few months of transition.

The NLD won a similar landslide in 1990 polls, only to see the military ignore the result and dig in for another two decades.

On Wednesday morning Suu Kyi spent 45 minutes in the capital Naypyidaw with Thein Sein, a former top junta general who has shed his uniform to steer reforms over recent years.

They smiled and shook hands for the cameras before the closed-door session.

“They discussed the peaceful transfer to the next government. The discussion was warm and open,” Information Minister Ye Htut told reporters.

“We have no tradition of the peaceful (power) transfer to a new elected government since we gained independence in 1948. We will establish this tradition without fail,” he added.

Later Suu Kyi met the army chief Min Aung Hlaing for about an hour in another closed session.

They agreed “to cooperate on stability and peace, the rule of the law, unity and reconciliation and development of the country as regards to the wishes of people”, according to a statement posted on the Facebook page of General Hlaing’s office.

The NLD has yet to comment on the talks. But the discussions are a sign Suu Kyi is ready to do business with a military that once held her under house arrest.

– So far, so good? –

Observers have praised Myanmar for holding a peaceful and broadly free and fair election after half a century of authoritarian rule.

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There are major challenges ahead, not least for the NLD’s lawmakers, who are political novices in a country beset by poverty, corruption and weak governance.

Suu Kyi is also desperate to amend the constitution, specifically the clause that bars her from top office for having foreign sons — her two children are British.

But as the icon of a generation-old democracy movement she has vowed to rule from “above the president”, indicating she will appoint a proxy to the role.

Early indications appear to show the army is ready to cede power to the elected government.

The military has gradually relaxed its stranglehold on the country with reforms that began in 2011 under Thein Sein’s semi-civilian government.

These culminated in November’s election, which saw the army-backed ruling party trounced at the polls.

Despite the humiliation of defeat, the military retains major influence.

It has 25 percent of all parliamentary seats guaranteed under the constitution as well as key security and bureaucratic posts that could put the brakes on an NLD government.

Minister Ye Htut denied rumours that feared former junta leader General Than Shwe is guiding the pace of reforms behind the scenes.

“Senior General Than Shwe is really retired,” he said.

Source: AFP