NAYPYITAW, Myanmar – Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi was meeting Friday with the country’s top political and military leaders, but said the landmark talks would be meaningful only if they lead to free and fair elections scheduled for later this year.
At stake is Myanmar’s constitution, written by the military in 2008, which does not allow Suu Kyi to run for president because her sons are foreign citizens.
With the elections months away, time is running out for Suu Kyi and ethnic minorities, who feel the constitution and electoral law put them at a disadvantage.
The unprecedented talks at the presidential house in Naypyitaw brought together President Thein Sein, Suu Kyi, top military commander Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, the speaker and the president of both houses of parliament and a representative of ethnic minorities, Aye Maung.
Aye Maung was skeptical about progress, but said prior to the meeting that the talks could “open the way for greater understanding and help reach some agreement on constitutional amendments.”
Lawmakers and Suu Kyi had called last year for dialogue, but the president and the army chief avoided it.
“What is important is that these talks continue and this should lead to the kind of agreements that will smooth the way to free, fair, inclusive elections,” Suu Kyi told reporters Thursday.
Myanmar was under military rule from 1962 until 2010, when the generals allowed polls leading to an elected government, but under rules critics said were unfair and allowed the defence forces to continue to hold power behind the scenes. At the same time, Thein Sein has started a process of political and economic liberalization after the decades of repressive rule.
Asked if the government might find a pretext to delay the elections, Suu Kyi said: “You can’t rule anything out in politics.” No exact date has been fixed for the polls that are supposed to be held later this year.
She declined to say if her party would boycott the elections if she finds conditions unacceptable, as she has suggested in the past.
“We keep our cards close to our chests until such time as we need to show them,” she said.
Her National League for Democracy party is considered to have a strong chance of defeating Thein Sein’s military-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party. Suu Kyi’s party boycotted the 2010 polls because it believed the legal conditions were unacceptable. It participated in 2012 byelections after some rules were amended, and won 43 of the 44 seats it contested.
Suu Kyi said the upcoming elections were more important than the 2010 polls “because the second election will decide whether the reform process really is a genuine one and whether it is going in a way in which we all hope it should go.”