New MPs usher in new era for Myanmar

Newly elected National League of Democracy Members of Parliament in a bus taking them to Parliament.
Newly elected National League of Democracy Members of Parliament in a bus taking them to Parliament.PHOTO: AGENCEFRANCE-PRESSE

390 mostly novice NLD MPs take office in most democratic legislature in generations

NAYPYITAW • In a modest dormitory in Myanmar's capital Naypyitaw, novice MP Tin Thit recites a poem he has penned called No Retreat, steeling himself to enter Myanmar's Parliament carrying the dreams of a nation left traumatised by army rule.

A poet, editor, activist - and now newly elected MP - he is among hundreds of political newcomers poised to take their seats today in the country's most democratic legislature in generations, following the November landslide win by Ms Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy (NLD).

"This is our era," the newly minted NLD lawmaker said on Saturday as he prepared for a last-ditch round of parliamentary training organised by his party, brushing off concerns about his and his colleagues' lack of experience.

"This is our responsibility. We will just do the job we have to do," he said.

The new Parliament marks a momentous political shift for a country that was under oppressive junta rule for decades.

Many of the NLD MPs have served prison time in Myanmar's long struggle for democratic change. They are a diverse bunch, counting singers, lawyers and businessmen among their ranks.

But few have any experience in the cut and thrust of Myanmar's complex parliamentary process.

They will need to show the country's 51 million people that they can deliver the "change" that was virtually the sole message of Ms Suu Kyi's triumphant election bid. And that will not be easy.

Many of the NLD MPs have served prison time in Myanmar's long struggle for democratic change. They are a diverse bunch, counting singers, lawyers and businessmen among their ranks. But few have any experience in the cut and thrust of Myanmar's complex parliamentary process.

While the junta handed power to a quasi-civilian reformist government in 2011, Myanmar remains blighted by poverty and corruption.

Junta-era neglect has left a legacy of ravaged education, healthcare, infrastructure and a creaking bureaucracy.

Ethnic minority divisions have also torn deep fractures across the nation and civil wars continue to ravage border areas, fought by a military that has ensured it will retain huge political and economic powers under the new government.

"Our region is another world," said Ms Cing Ngaih Mang, a newly elected MP for a small ethnic minority party from western Chin State, marvelling at the grandeur of Myanmar's capital.

"The difference in development is like comparing earth and sky," she said, adding that she had been watching parliamentary TV to brush up on protocol.

For his part, Mr Tin Thit never aspired to be a politician. But he managed to topple former defence minister Wai Lwin in November's vote, winning a Lower House seat in the military heartland of Naypyitaw.

Today, 390 NLD MPs are due to take their seats in the national Parliament. While the NLD-led Parliament will be seen as essentially a rubber stamp for Ms Suu Kyi's government, complex political manoeuvring awaits in the coming days.

The Parliament will shortly nominate a new president to replace incumbent Thein Sein, a former general, late next month. Ms Suu Kyi, who is barred from the position by the Constitution because she married and had children with a foreigner, has vowed to rule "above" the next leader - a move that is likely to put her at loggerheads with the army which holds an effective veto on charter change as it retains a quarter of seats in the legislature.

Only around two dozen NLD MPs entering Parliament today, including Ms Suu Kyi, have prior legislative experience, meaning the party has few veterans to show new lawmakers the ropes.

To combat this, the party has been running workshops in recent weeks, while new MPs flocked to Naypyitaw to watch their predecessors in the last days of the previous Parliament which ended on Friday.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 01, 2016, with the headline 'New MPs usher in new era for Myanmar'. Print Edition | Subscribe