Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Daw Suu Enters the Union Parliament

(This news report is from AFP and FT on 2 May 2012.)

NAYPYIDAW — Myanmar pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi was sworn in as a member of parliament Wednesday, opening a new chapter in the Nobel laureate's near quarter-century struggle against authoritarian rule.

The 66-year-old, in the capital Naypyidaw for the ceremony, stood to read the brief oath in unison with 33 other members of her National League for Democracy party elected to the lower house in April, an AFP reporter said.

The oath hands Suu Kyi public office for the first time and marks a transformation in the fortunes of the opposition leader, who was held under house arrest for much of the last 20 years but is now central to the nation's tentative transition to democracy.

She had initially baulked at taking the oath, specifically a sentence pledging to "safeguard" the army-created constitution.

But on Monday she backed down after the head of the nominally civilian government President Thein Sein refused to offer concessions, explaining it was the "desire of the people" to see her party in office after breakthrough April 1 by-elections.

But the wildly popular daughter of assassinated independence hero Aung San also faces the difficulty of managing the expectations of a nation impatient for change and the hopes of Burmese who see her as a sole beacon for democratic freedom.

It is unclear how rapidly she can deliver on her ambitious campaign promises, including the overhaul of Myanmar’s army-drafted constitution, in a legislature dominated by former members of the military junta who ruled for nearly half a century before ceding to a quasi-civilian government last year.

“Only time will tell,” she replied when asked by a Reuters reporter of the day’s significance, as she waded through a chaotic throng of reporters on her way to the chamber where she took the oath in a shortened 40-minute session.

Later, she told reporters: “I have always been cautiously optimistic about developments. In politics, you also have to be cautiously optimistic.”

Ms Suu Kyi’s entry into parliament comes a month after her party’s landslide victory in a by-election and two days after backing down in a stand-off over the wording of an oath to protect the constitution sworn by all new members of parliament.

The parliamentary session was to have ended on Monday but was extended in part to allow Ms Suu Kyi and fellow members of the National League for Democracy (NLD) to take their seats.
-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Entering the chamber, she at first sat down on her own, near the block reserved for serving military men who have a quarter of the seats under the constitution, and seemed relaxed as other lawmakers greeted her.

She then lined up with colleagues to take the oath, including a pledge to uphold a constitution her party wants to change because it gives the military a leading political role.

Asked if she felt awkward working with the military, she replied, “Not at all, I have tremendous goodwill towards the military. It doesn’t in any way bother me to sit with them.”

Her comments reflect the dramatic scale of change in the former Burma, given the military’s past treatment of Ms Suu Kyi, who was first detained by the army in 1989, and then spent 15 of the next 21 years in detention until her release from house arrest in November 2010.

Many lawmakers hope Ms Suu Kyi’s parliamentary debut will be a catalyst for further reform by the government of President Thein Sein, a former general who has freed hundreds of political prisoners, legalised trade unions and protests, and started a dialogue with  ethnic minority rebels.

“Parliament will be stronger because of her good relationship with the international community,” said Khin Maung Yi, a lawmaker from the National Democratic Force party. “We parliamentarians have wanted her in the legislature for a long time ... Many laws have to be changed and amended.”

Speaking to reporters after Wednesday's ceremony the veteran dissident said: "I believe I can serve the interests of the people more than before".

She was then whisked away by car to Naypyidaw airport to return to Yangon.
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- 
The international community greeted her election as a step towards democracy and had urged Suu Kyi, who drew huge crowds on the campaign trail, to take her seat amid fears her refusal could stall the transition from military rule.

US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton, on a visit to Beijing Wednesday, praised Myanmar's president for allowing the by-elections but said the United States was also looking ahead to the conduct of polls slated for 2015.

"This is an important moment for Burma's future," Clinton said in a statement, using Myanmar's former name.

"A genuine transition toward multi-party democracy leading to general elections in 2015 will help build a more prosperous society."

The NLD is the main opposition force after securing 43 of the 44 seats it contested in the by-elections. The party, which boycotted a controversial 2010 election, agreed to rejoin the political mainstream last year after a series of reforms by the government.

But it is still a minority influence in parliament with one quarter of the seats in both chambers reserved for unelected military officials.

Renaud Egreteau, a Myanmar expert from the University of Hong Kong, said Suu Kyi's retreat over the oath showed that compromise was now among her "political tools".

While taking office had opened new political ground, Egreteau cautioned Suu Kyi and the NLD against participating "in the army's constitutional game while refusing the rules."

Appearing alongside UN chief Ban Ki-moon, who arrived for talks at her lakeside villa in Yangon on Tuesday, Suu Kyi said she was willing to compromise for the sake of reform.

"We have always believed in flexibility, in the political process... that is the only way in which we can achieve our goal without violence," she said.

The democracy icon, who was released from house arrest in 2010, has shown increased confidence in the government in recent weeks, calling for the suspension of EU sanctions and planning her first international trip in 24 years.

Last week, European Union nations suspended most sanctions against the resource-rich but poor nation for one year to reward the reforms, which included releasing some political prisoners.

But the United States has ruled out an immediate end to its main sanctions.

Suu Kyi's long journey from political prisoner to politician has come at great personal cost.

The daughter of Myanmar's independence hero General Aung San, Suu Kyi studied at Oxford University and had two sons after marrying British academic Michael Aris.

A charismatic orator, she took a lead role in the pro-democracy movement after returning to Yangon in 1988 and was first placed under house arrest by army generals the following year.

She remained a figurehead for the NLD which swept 1990 polls but was never allowed to take power.

                         (Following videos are of Daw Su and NLD MPs in the Burma's Parliament.)
video

video

video