Naypyitaw, February 1
Myanmar entered a new political era today as Aung San Suu Kyi’s pro-democracy MPs took their seats in parliament, bearing the hopes of a nation subjugated for decades by the military.
Wearing pastel orange uniforms, lawmakers from the National League for Democracy 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 a majority from the army establishment and has spurred hopes of a new political dawn in the long-repressed nation.
Suu Kyi, the centre-piece of Myanmar’s struggle for democracy, entered the cavernous parliament building without comment. She took a seat alone for the short opening session in which the lawmakers were sworn in and her close ally, Win Myint, was appointed lower house speaker.
“Today is a day to be proud of in Myanmar’s political history and for the democratic transition,” Win Myint said in an acceptance speech.
The new government faces a daunting rebuilding task in one of Southeast Asia’s poorest countries, whose economy was crushed by almost half a century of junta rule. Many NLD MPs are also political novices, unskilled in the business of government. They must swiftly adapt to a difficult decision-making process in a legislature where unelected soldiers occupy 25 per cent of all seats. “It’s a historic moment for the country,” said Myanmar political analyst Khin Zaw Win.
The country will now choose a new president to succeed President Thein Sein, the former general who in 2011 launched dramatic political and economic reforms which culminated in the election.
Suu Kyi herself is barred from the post by a military-scripted constitution because she married and had children with a foreigner.
The 70-year-old has vowed to sidestep this hurdle by ruling “above” a proxy president, although she has yet to reveal her choice for the role.
While there is no clear schedule for the selection of candidates, it could be within days. Elected members of both houses and the military will nominate three candidates to replace Thein Sein, who retains his post until the end of March.
The new president will then be chosen by a vote of the combined houses.
Observers are closely watching Suu Kyi’s relationship with the still-powerful military, which holds key ministries as well as the 25 per cent parliamentary bloc.
Suu Kyi may try to persuade the army to help her change the charter clause that blocks her path to power, analysts say, although it has so far baulked at any attempt to redraft it.