Opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi held talks with Myanmar's top political and military leaders Friday in what a government spokesman described as a "successful meeting," but there was no sign the participants bridged their differences on political reforms ahead of an election later this year.
Reaching at least a general agreement is probably a prerequisite for Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy to take part in the polls. It feels that several clauses in the constitution are unfair, including one that does not allow Suu Kyi to become president because her sons are foreign citizens. Ethnic minority parties also want some changes in the constitution, which was enacted under military rule in 2008.
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.
"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 ahead of the talks. She declined to say if her party would boycott the elections if she finds conditions unacceptable, as she has suggested in the past.
A boycott could give the international community the perception of an unfair election, and lead to a slowdown in aid that is needed to boost Myanmar's economy. Moves toward democracy under Thein Sein led many Western countries to ease sanctions they had in place against the previous military regime.
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 by-elections after some rules were amended, and won 43 of the 44 seats it contested.
In his introductory remarks at the meeting before the doors were closed to the press, Thein Sein said "personal and political party interests should be set aside and work be done in the interest of the country," also paying heed to the importance of holding a free and fair election.
President spokesman and Information Minister Ye Htut told reporters that the meeting "discussed issues on constitution amendments, the ethnic peace process, the holding of a free and fair election and stability during the post-election period."
He said the two-hour gathering "was held in a frank and open manner and all agreed that it was a successful meeting," and that the participants agreed to meet again when parliament reopens. It is in holiday recess now and will resume its work on May 11.
A well-known political analyst, Yan Myo Thein, said he was disappointed with the talks because they appeared to lack substance.
"The results of the talks are not very encouraging," he said, complaining that the talks lack transparency. "We hoped to hear more positive news."
However, lawmaker Thein Nyunt, chairman of New National League for Democracy, said he hoped such meetings "could help build better understanding and could ease the tension among the respective parties. I hope all the participants will talk in the spirit of national reconciliation."
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 defense forces to continue to hold power behind the scenes. But when he became president in 2011, Thein Sein started a process of political and economic liberalization after the decades of repressive rule.
Suu Kyi said Thursday 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."