Tuesday, July 25, 2017

President expected to meet NLD leader next month

In the latest twist over President U Thein Sein’s refusal to set a date to meet Daw Aung San Suu Kyi following her party’s landslide election victory, Minister for Information U Ye Htut said yesterday that he expects a meeting will take place sometime next month.

There has been concern in some quarters over the president’s reluctance to agree to a date for a meeting, which is seen as important in the context of the stated commitment by U Thein Sein and his military backers to a peaceful transition and moves toward reconciliation.

However, U Ye Htut strongly rejected the notion that the meeting was significant. The president last week agreed to her request for talks, but did not set a date.

U Ye Htut told The Myanmar Times in Nay Pyi Taw that the president had said in his letter to the National League for Democracy leader after her victory that he would accept the election result and was committed to a peaceful transition, and that he had repeated this in a public meeting with all parties in Yangon on November 15.

A meeting to reiterate that message was not necessary, U Ye Htut said.

“He is the current president and if someone requests permission for a meeting it is up to him [whether to agree],” he added.

He suggested that having addressed the two key issues of result acceptance and peaceful transition, the meeting sought by Daw Aung San Suu Kyi would most likely be to discuss the “composition” of the government.

On November 10, as the scale of the NLD’s election victory became clear, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi requested talks with U Thein Sein as well as Senior General Min Aung Hlaing and Pyidaungsu Hluttaw Speaker Thura U Shwe Mann. All three accepted the request and indicated that the talks could be held as soon as this week.

But U Ye Htut told reporters in Yangon on November 15 that the president would not set a date for such a meeting until after all complaints to the Union Election Commission had been dealt with – a process that could take months. An aide to the president had earlier said the meeting would take place after the final results were announced, which the UEC has said will happen by tomorrow.

However, U Ye Htut told The Myanmar Times yesterday that it would not be necessary to wait for all issues to be settled and he believed a meeting would be scheduled for some point in December, but he did not know when.

Asked why in that case it was necessary to delay at all, particularly if the president accepted the election result, he said U Thein Sein had a number of appointments on his schedule, including an ASEAN summit this weekend in Kuala Lumpur.

Speaking in his office in the capital, a visibly irate U Yet Htut said he did not understand why international media and The Myanmar Times considered the matter so important, accusing them of bias against the president.

“I reject all these concerns. [A meeting will take place] when appropriate. He is president,” the minister said.

He said in other countries such a meeting would not occur and asked whether then-president George Bush had met president-elect Barack Obama after his 2008 election victory. He appeared unaware that, as is customary in the US, Mr Bush hosted Mr Obama in the White House less than a week after the election to discuss the transition ahead.

U Than Soe Naing, a political commentator, said U Thein Sein’s reluctance to meet Daw Aung San Suu Kyi went back a long way.

“Since last year Daw Suu called for four-way talks but the government made so many kinds of delays and it even became 48-way talks in the end. Daw Suu made her invitation [last week] in the spirit of national reconciliation but the government’s previous response shows why they wanted to meet after the UEC finished its task,” he said.

Separately, in what could also be taken as a climb-down from his earlier remarks, the co-chair of the ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party said yesterday the party had no plans to file multiple complaints with the UEC.

Speaking to journalists at the Pyidaungsu Hluttaw, U Htay Oo said, “There are no such plans at present, though issues do exist. I don’t want the staff to get into trouble just because of a few careless mistakes.”

The intention behind any complaints that might be filed would be to help the UEC avoid similar mistakes in future, rather than to seek to overturn the results or, as has been suggested, to serve as a pretext to postpone a meeting between Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and President U Thein Sein.

“I don’t think we should contest results where we lost. But it would be good to avoid mistakes in the next election,” he said.

U Htay Oo, who lost his own seat in Hinthada, Ayeyarwady Region, to the NLD, also denied reports on social media he had already filed objections in respect of 400 unsuccessful USDP candidates. “Maybe the party is advising them. Maybe complaints have been filed and we haven’t received the reports yet,” he said.

Additional reporting by Swan Ye Htut and Lun Min Mang