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

Senior General Min Aung Hlaing (left) shakes hands with Aung San Suu Kyi before their meeting on Dec 2, 2015.
Senior General Min Aung Hlaing (left) shakes hands with Aung San Suu Kyi before their meeting on Dec 2, 2015. PHOTO: AFP

NAYPYIDAW, MYANMAR (AFP) - Myanmar's democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi held talks on Wednesday (Dec 2) with the military establishment on the handover of power, the first such discussions since her opposition party cleaned up at the polls.

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

Immediately after her party's win, Suu Kyi 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 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 scale landslide in 1990 polls, only to see the military annul 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.

The pair smiled as they shook hands for the cameras before the closed-door session began.

"They discussed the peaceful transfer to the next government. The discussion was warm and open," Information Minister Ye Htut, who was at the meeting, 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 she met the army chief Min Aung Hlaing for about an hour in another closed session.

Their discussions are a sign she is ready to do business with a military that once held her under house arrest.

Neither the NLD nor the army would immediately comment on the substance of the talks.

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

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 magnetic force of a generation-long democracy movement she has vowed to rule from "above the president", indicating she will appoint a proxy to the role to circumvent the charter block on her political rise.

Early indications appear to show the army is for now being a good loser and is ready to cede power to the elected government.

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

The reforms 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 also moved to deny rumours that the hand of feared former junta leader general Than Shwe is guiding the pace and depth of reforms.

"Senior General Than Shwe is really retired," he said, adding the elderly former authoritarian leader "isn't involved... in our government's process of holding elections." The last election was held in 2010, but the NLD boycotted the poll, which saw Thein Sein's Union Solidarity and Development Party take power.