Myanmar's novice MPs learn ropes in outgoing parliament

Newly-elected Myanmar members of parliament during a study-visit to the parliament at Naypyidaw on Jan 27, 2016.
Newly-elected Myanmar members of parliament during a study-visit to the parliament at Naypyidaw on Jan 27, 2016. PHOTO: AFP

YANGON (AFP) - Hundreds of newly-elected Myanmar MPs from Aung San Suu Kyi's party took lessons in lawmaking from the outgoing army-dominated parliament on Wednesday (Jan 27), days before taking their seats in the most democratic legislature for decades.

A landslide victory for Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy (NLD) in November polls will give the politicians their first taste of power when the new parliament convenes on Feb 1, a historical turning point for a nation long stifled by military rule.

The new MPs include democracy activists from all walks of life and dozens of former political prisoners, but few have any background in lawmaking. The country was ruled by an oppressive military junta for nearly 50 years, from 1962-2011.

"We are now trying to learn from the old MPs because we have no experience," said Naing Ngan Kyaw, a new lower house MP from the central mining town of Mogok.

He was one of around 350 new legislators who attended parliament sessions in the capital Naypyidaw to watch veteran lawmakers in action.

"It is in the interest of our country," he told AFP.

Most MPs currently in parliament are from the military-affiliated ruling party, part of a quasi-civilian administration that replaced outright junta rule in 2011 and initiated a series of major political and economic reforms.

As a key part of those changes Suu Kyi and some 40 fellow NLD MPs entered parliament for the first time in 2012, forming a minority opposition.

But the tables turned dramatically last year, when the party swept nearly 80 per cent of elected seats in the parliament.

Many remain gripped by uncertainty over the transfer of power since Suu Kyi's choice for president has yet to be revealed.

She is barred from the role by the junta-drafted constitution and has pledged to rule "above" the next leader - a move she would have to balance against a desire to maintain harmonious relations with the still-powerful army.

As the outgoing parliament's final day on Friday comes closer there has been a final flurry of negotiations and political manoeuvres.

Suu Kyi met army chief Min Aung Hlaing on Monday and a day later President Thein Sein made a shock proposal to extend the powers of the military-controlled home affairs ministry by giving it control over immigration.

The move would need parliament's approval.

Suu Kyi's administration will face major challenges such as high levels of poverty, an economy struggling to take flight despite droves of international investors, ongoing civil wars and desperately overburdened infrastructure and bureaucracy.

It was not just the new NLD lawmakers who attended Wednesday's sessions. Some new unelected military MPs, who are allocated a quarter of parliament seats under a constitutional provision, were also present.