Myanmar’s democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi discussed the smooth transfer of power to her party with President Thein Sein on Wednesday, the first time the two have met since her National League for Democracy (NLD) swept a November election.
When the new administration is sworn in early next year, it will be the first time since 1960 that a democratically elected government will take office in the country crippled by decades of military rule.
But workable ties with the military, which retains considerable power, will be crucial for Suu Kyi as her party seeks a smooth debut in government.
Among the Nobel laureate’s first post-victory moves was to ask for reconciliation talks with reformist ex-general Thein Sein and armed forces supremo Min Aung Hlaing, whose military runs the interior, defense and border affairs ministries under a constitution drafted before the end of its half-century rule.
Suu Kyi had a closed-door meeting with Thein Sein at his residence in Naypyitaw and the 45-minute talks were centered on the transfer of power, said the president’s spokesman and information minister, Ye Htut.
“We have opened a communication channel between the two sides,” Ye Htut, told a news conference.
“They mainly focused on the smooth and peaceful transfer of the state responsibilities to the future government… to cooperate bilaterally so that there won’t be any concerns among the people.”
He said the transfer to a new president was “completely unprecedented in our history.”
However, Myanmar’s constitution is likely to be a bone of contention between the NLD and the military. It enshrines a power-sharing arrangement between the armed forces and an elected ruling party, regardless of the size of its public mandate.
The military argues that is necessary to protect a fledgling democracy and maintain peace, but it means the NLD will need military support in governing an underdeveloped country with an outdated bureaucracy, weak infrastructure and ailing healthcare and education sectors.
Suu Kyi, 70, wants to work with the military but has been clear about wanting to change parts of the constitution, including a clause that bars her from becoming president because her two children are foreign citizens.
Ye Htut said amending that article was not discussed and it would be up to the new parliament to decide.
It is uncertain whether the NLD plans to tread carefully once it takes office, or take a risk by launching another push to reduce the political role of the armed forces. The military gets a quarter of legislative seats under the constitution and that amounts to holding a veto on changing the charter.
Both Thein Sein and Min Aung Hlaing have endorsed the election win and offered support in ensuring a smooth transition to the new government between February and April next year, easing jitters about possible turbulence.
Suu Kyi has taken a more conciliatory tone towards the military since becoming a lawmaker but her meeting with Min Aung Hlaing comes after she spoke out at against him in June for influencing military legislators.
After the bloc voted in unison to keep its veto powers, Suu Kyi said: “He’s not elected by the people, so why does he have the right to decide?”