Myanmar Parliament chief asks losing lawmakers to play fair

Myanmar's parliamentary speaker Shwe Mann called on lawmakers to play fair in the outgoing legislature's remaining debates, during a parliamentary session on Nov 16, 2015.
Myanmar's parliamentary speaker Shwe Mann called on lawmakers to play fair in the outgoing legislature's remaining debates, during a parliamentary session on Nov 16, 2015.PHOTO: AFP

NAYPYITAW (REUTERS) - Myanmar's Parliament chairman on Monday (Nov 16) urged lawmakers from the ruling party thrashed at the polls to play fair in the outgoing legislature's remaining debates, which could determine the budget a new opposition-led government will inherit in 2016.

The National League for Democracy (NLD) won an outright majority in the Nov 8 election and its leader Aung San Suu Kyi met reformist House Speaker Shwe Mann on Sunday to ask for help in a drawn-out transition expected to be concluded in late March.

Former junta heavyweight Shwe Mann has become an unlikely ally for Suu Kyi, and the loss of his seat and signs of estrangement from the army and his ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) have left his political future uncertain.

"Most of the current parliamentarians, including me, lost in the election and had no reason to return," he said at the opening of the new session.

"Although we won't be coming back, we need to do our best to perform the responsibilities of lawmakers, truthfully and faithfully.

"While we still have the chance, let's give our best for the people."

Some NLD members are concerned military-appointed lawmakers could coerce USDP legislators to beef-up the next armed forces budget, at the expense of areas key to NLD hopes of making a successful debut in government amid high expectations from a public yearning for change.

SNUB TO GENERALS

The USDP dominates Parliament right now, but has so far won only 41 seats in the upper and lower houses, little more than a 10th of the NLD's 390 - a resounding snub to a party created by the junta and controlled by generals who ceded power in 2011.

Among those soldiers were reformers like President Thein Sein and his team of "super ministers", who sought international help to overhaul an economy shackled by sanctions and decades of corruption and inept military rule. Mr Thein Sein did not run in the election.

After winning 80 per cent of the seats contested in the two chambers of Parliament, the NLD has a challenge to court more investment and create jobs, while keeping control of consumer prices, a wayward currency and yawning trade deficit.

The NLD's manifesto is broad and vague, but the party has pledged to boost Myanmar's rudimentary schools and hospitals. Crucial to that is support of rival lawmakers to allocate sufficient funds.

Under Myanmar's quasi-civilian system, the military's interests are protected by reserving 25 per cent of seats in the legislature, along with three key ministerial portfolios, for the armed forces. Defence issues have limited civilian oversight.

"We worry that the army will push for heavy military spending. We can't touch the defence budget. Our priorities are healthcare and education," Mr Win Htein, an NLD leader, told Reuters.

But the NLD government will need the military. Not only will the military bloc be the biggest opposition force in Parliament, its control of the ministries of interior, defence and border security mean it will also be a key partner in office.

"We don't want to provoke them," said Mr Win Htein. "This is nothing compared to (running) the whole government."