New era dawns as Aung San Suu Kyi’s party strides into Myanmar Parliament

Myanmar's National League for Democracy (NLD) chairman Aung San Suu Kyi leaves after the parliamentary session in Naypyidaw, on Feb 1, 2016.
Myanmar's National League for Democracy (NLD) chairman Aung San Suu Kyi leaves after the parliamentary session in Naypyidaw, on Feb 1, 2016.PHOTO: AFP
Speaker of the Lower House Win Myint leaves after the parliamentary session in Naypyidaw on Feb 1, 2016.
Speaker of the Lower House Win Myint leaves after the parliamentary session in Naypyidaw on Feb 1, 2016. PHOTO: AFP

NAYPYITAW (AFP, REUTERS) - Myanmar entered a new political era on Monday (Feb 1) as Ms Aung San Suu Kyi’s pro-democracy MPs took their seats in Parliament, carrying the hopes of a nation subjugated for decades by the military.

Wearing orange uniforms, lawmakers from Ms Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) arrived for their first day of work in the capital Naypyidaw buoyed by a massive popular mandate from November’s election.

That poll saw the NLD wrest absolute majority from the army establishment and has spurred hopes of a new political dawn in the long repressed nation.

 

Ms Suu Kyi, the figurehead of Myanmar’s struggle for democracy, entered the cavernous parliament building without making a comment.

 

She took a seat alone for the short opening session which saw the lawmakers sworn in and the appointment of a close ally, Mr Win Myint, as Lower House Speaker.

“Today is a day to be proud of in Myanmar’s political history and for the democratic transition,” Mr Win Myint said in an acceptance speech. 

But many of the NLD’s lawmakers are political novices in a parliament where 25 per cent of all seats are still held by the army. The inexperienced new government faces a daunting rebuilding task in a country where the economy has been crushed by generations of junta rule.

 
 

The NLD won some 80 per cent of elected seats in November’s historic vote, but the junta-drafted Constitution means it will have to share power with the army that for years has suppressed, often brutally, the Nobel Peace Prize laureate and her allies.

The first sitting of the NLD-dominated Parliament on Monday is another step in Myanmar’s drawn-out transition which started with the election and will go on until the NLD government officially starts its term in April.

“We are likely to announce the president in the second week of February,” said Mr Win Htein, a senior member of the party. Other NLD officials said the presidential nomination process may begin towards the end of the month.  

This week, the party will focus on appointing parliamentary speakers, who were announced last week. It will also prepare for the start of state and regional assemblies on Feb 8, some in places dominated by large ethnic minorities such as Shan State in the east or Rakhine in the west.

Each of the Parliament’s two chambers, the Lower House or House of Representatives and the Upper House or House of Nationalities, will appoint its presidential candidate and the military officials who hold a quarter of seats will put forward their nominee. Combined chambers will then vote on the candidates. The winner will become president. The other two will serve as vice-presidents.  

Expectations are towering for Ms Suu Kyi, who spent 15 years under house arrest after the NLD swept to power in 1990 but was barred from taking office, and is regarded with an almost religious-like zeal in the country.

Myanmar’s 51.5 million people expect the NLD to quickly fix everything from bringing peace to fractured ethnic states to stopping the abuse of the Rohingya Muslims in Rakhine by the Buddhist majority.

“They (people) hope that every problem will be solved automatically after the NLD becomes the government, FDI will come in,” said Mr Shwe Mann, the outgoing Speaker ofPparliament who is close to Ms Suu Kyi, referring to foreign investment.  

Under the 2008 Constitution, Ms Suu Kyi is barred from becoming president because her children are not Myanmar citizens. She has given no indication as to who will take over from outgoing President Thein Sein and the NLD has no clear number two.