Myanmar's president and military chief met with opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi on Friday, an unprecedented event that could pave the way for major reforms in the once pariah nation.
The meeting culminated with the leaders agreeing to allow Myanmar's parliament to consider amending the country's constitution – which currently bars Ms. Suu Kyi from becoming president – ahead of elections next year.
The elections are expected to be a major test for the nominally civilian-run country, which has undergone a series of democratic reforms since 2011. But a constitutional ban that prevents Suu Kyi from becoming president still remains – a lasting reminder of the brutal military regime that ruled Myanmar for the previous five decades.
A Nobel laureate and widely beloved leader, Suu Kyi is ineligible to lead the country because of a clause in Myanmar's 2008 constitution that bans anyone whose spouse or children are foreign citizen from becoming president. Her late husband was British, as are her two sons. Test your knowledge How much do you know about Myanmar? Take this quiz and find out.
The opposition party led by Suu Kyi, the National League for Democracy (NLD), is widely expected to win the 2015 election if they are free and fair, AFP reports.
The NLD won almost every seat available in the 2012 election, making Suu Kyi a member of parliament for the first time. She's since called repeatedly for a constitutional amendment that would allow her to run for president – and for a meeting between ruling leaders and their opposition counterparts like the one that finally took place on Friday.
Dozens of leaders from rival ethnic groups and political parties, including President Thein Sein and military chief Min Aung Hlaing, took part in the talks. Held in Naypyidaw, Myanmar's capital, the meeting was the first of its kind in the Southeast Asian country. It ended with a broad agreement between leaders to work together on reforms – and on peace talks with more than a dozen rebel ethnic groups.
The Associated Press reported that the meeting "appeared timed to showcase the Southeast Asian nation's ongoing reforms" ahead of a regional summit in less than two weeks. Critics called it a hollow attempt to show the international community and summit participants – President Barack Obama chief among them – that political dialogue is still continuing.
"It looks as if this is being timed for Obama's visit, but this might be the start of what has been needed for a long time, an institutional framework for dialogue," Aung Thu Nyein, a Bangkok-based academic and Myanmar specialist, told Reuters. "There's a lot that needs to be talked about and problems that will need solutions."
In separate phone calls Thursday with Suu Kyi and Mr. Sein, Mr. Obama pushed the two rival leaders on furthering Myanmar's democratic reforms, the AP reports.
Obama underscored the need for an inclusive and credible process for conducting elections next year, the White House said. He also stressed the importance of addressing tensions in Rakhine State, where more than 100,000 members of a Muslim minority have fled attacks and persecution over the last two years.
The upcoming East Asia Summit is scheduled for Nov. 12-13.
Agence France-Presse reports