YANGON - Myanmar's former junta leader sees Aung San Suu Kyi as the country's "future leader" and has pledged to support her even though she is currently barred by the constitution from becoming president, his grandson said on Saturday.
Than Shwe, who headed a military junta until he stepped down in 2011 and who many believe remains powerful behind the scenes, made the remarks during secret talks with the democracy icon on Friday, his grandson, Nay Shwe Thway Aung, said.
"It is the truth that she will become the future leader of the country," Than Shwe was quoted as saying by his grandson at the meeting with Suu Kyi, the first between the two.
"I will support her with all of my efforts," Nay Shwe Thway Aung quoted Than Shwe as saying in a statement posted on Facebook late on Saturday.
It was unclear whether Than Shwe's comments were a call for the constitution, drafted by his junta in 2008, to be changed to allow the Nobel laureate to become president. She is barred from the highest office because of her sons' foreign citizenship.
Attempts by her National League for Democracy (NLD) to amend the relevant article in the constitution have been rebuffed and its landslide election win last month does not guarantee it control of parliament.
Than Shwe has no official role. But though he has been out of the public eye since 2011, many in Myanmar are convinced he remains politically involved behind the scenes.
Senior NLD lawmaker Win Htein confirmed the meeting had taken place and said Suu Kyi met Than Shwe due to "her belief in his influence on the government and the Tatmadaw (military)," he told Reuters.
Than Shwe kept Suu Kyi under house arrest for most of his 19 years in power and was considered by the West as a dictator who crushed dissent, enriched his cronies and kept his people poor.
He has not been seen in public since transferring power in 2011 to a reformist, quasi-civilian government run by his loyalists.
Accompanying Nay Shwe Thway Aung Facebook post was an image of a banknote signed by Than Shwe, President Thein Sein and Suu Kyi, referring to them each as Myanmar leaders.
"The significance of this note is ... they signed only before they became the head of the country or while they were head of the country," it said, without elaboration.
The NLD's Nov. 8 heavy defeat of a ruling party formed by Than Shwe has been interpreted as both a public mandate for Suu Kyi and a protest vote against the military's political clout.
Suu Kyi is seeking to smooth the NLD's path to office by cultivating good ties with a military her party once reviled but must now work with in a power-sharing government. The constitution guarantees the armed forces executive and legislative representation.
She held talks on Wednesday with Thein Sein, a former junta general and Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, the military chief and Than Shwe's protege
Than Shwe was known for being enigmatic, cryptic and calculated and has never explained his motives, nor taken credit, for ceding power to reformist right-hand men who ushered in a wave of political and economic liberalisation.