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 Aung San Suu Kyi Talks Raise Hopes for Smooth Transition in Myanmar

November 28, 2015, 02:17:23 AM
The democracy leader and outgoing speaker of parliament agree to work together to transfer power

Opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi and the outgoing speaker of parliament agreed to work together to transfer power from the current military-linked legislature to her party, following her resounding election victory in Myanmar.

Ms. Suu Kyi spoke with Shwe Mann on Thursday in the first of several meetings she has requested with the military-linked establishment after her National League for Democracy crushed it in the Nov. 8 elections.

In a joint statement afterwards, Ms. Suu Kyi and Mr. Shwe Mann pledged to “systematically implement the desires of the people following the election results” and to “respect national reconciliation and ethnic unity” when the new legislature sits on Jan. 31.

The meeting raises confidence in Myanmar that the handover of the legislature from former generals to the opposition party over the next few months will be smooth, and that NLD lawmakers will be able to take their seats without interference.

The higher stakes meetings for Ms. Suu Kyi will be with the commander-in-chief of the still-powerful and entrenched armed forces, Min Aung Hlaing, as well as current president Thein Sein. The two men have agreed in principle to sit down with her, though it isn’t clear when.

Spokespersons for the president had earlier signaled these meetings could be held as early as this week but now say they could be pushed back to next month.

The nervousness around the political transition ahead dates back to 1990, when the NLD also won national elections in a landslide. But the results were ignored by the ruling junta, which confined Ms. Suu Kyi to house arrest for most of the next two decades.

While this time the president and armed forces have promised to respect the NLD’s victory, the meetings, especially with the commander-in-chief, signal how much cooperation—or challenge—Ms. Suu Kyi can expect from the military, which will remain entrenched in Myanmar’s political system.

Though she will control the legislature, the military, which under the constitution holds a quarter of unelected seats in parliament, is able to block any major changes to the constitution, which need more than 75% of lawmakers in favor.

These include changes to a clause in the constitution which bans Ms. Suu Kyi from becoming president because she has two foreign sons.

It also grants the military significant political power, including the ability to pick key ministers in charge of border affairs, home affairs and defense, and allows it to step in and take over governance in case of a “state of emergency,” a term vaguely defined in the constitution.

In Myanmar, the parliament picks the president. Ms. Suu Kyi’s party will have at least 390 lawmakers in the 664-person legislature, empowering it to choose the next president and one vice-president. Despite the ban on her holding the top job, Ms. Suu Kyi has said she will call the shots from “above the president.”

Source: Shibani Mahtani (The Wall Street Journal)

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