Than Shwe meets San Suu Kyi to protect the military’s “economic and political interests”
by Francis Khoo Thwe
​A source talks to AsiaNews about Friday’s meeting between the retired "generalissimo" and the pro-democracy leader, at the former junta leader’s private residence in Naypyidaw. Shwe acknowledges the NLD’s win and offers his earnest support to Suu Kyi for the greater good of the nation.

Yangon (AsiaNews) – Myanmar’s feared former junta leader General Than Shwe met his erstwhile nemesis Aung San Suu Kyi who won the 8 November parliamentary election.

Win Myint, a spokesman for Ms Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) party, confirmed the Friday meeting in the capital Naypyidaw, adding it was the first time the pair had met since 2003.

A source who spoke to AsiaNews said that the generals are hedging their bets to protect their economic and political interests.

Than Shwe, who ran the country with an iron fist for nearly two decades, met with democracy champion Suu Kyi on Friday. The talks mark a dramatic turnaround in fortune for Suu Kyi, who was kept under house arrest for 15 of the past 25 years by the 82-year-old retired general for leading the pro-democracy movement against his army.

Under the military-drafted constitution, Aung San Suu Kyi, 70, cannot be elected president. However, the NLD leader said that she would lead the government even though she will not be president.

“Everyone has to accept the truth that Daw Aung San Suu Kyi will be the future leader of Myanmar after winning the elections,” former Senior General U Than Shwe was quoted as saying in his grandson’s Facebook post on 5 December.

“I will support her earnestly as much as I can if she really works for the development of the country,” said the 82-year-old ex-general who ruled from 1992 until handing over power to a military-backed government in 2011.

A Catholic expert in Myanmar politics in Yangon, anonymous for security reasons, spoke to AsiaNews saying that the meeting was a positive "step forward" in the interests of Myanmar's democracy and development.

Most people are no longer willing to put up with the violence and obscurantism of the past, seeking “greater openness and broader horizons."

In view of the situation, military leaders have kept a low profile fearful of domestic tensions and debt repayments. "If Aung San Suu Kyi leads the country, Western governments are more likely to be lenient on these issues."

The meeting suggests “the dictator will influence who will be called to lead the country in the future,” and that former junta members are “prepared to accept NLD’s leadership as long as they can protect their business interests” from new sanctions and embargoes.

People tied to the former junta are “present at every level of government," the source said, and are working behind the scenes “to promote their own road map. Accepting Aung San Suu Kyi's rise to power is a way for the generals to hedge their bets and protect their economic and political interests.”

Last week the Nobel Peace laureate met with outgoing President Thein Sein and the army chief, both of whom reiterated their commitment to working with the NLD leader to ensure a smooth transition of power.

For some analysts, the meeting between the former junta leader and Suu Kyi is a sign the handover of power will be peaceful.

By contrast, when the NLD won the election in 1990, the military cancelled the result, placing Aung San Suu Kyi under house arrest and tightening its grip on the country for a generation.