New era dawns as Suu Kyi’s party strides into Myanmar parliament

AFP-JIJI

Aung San Suu Kyi will led her party into a new session of Myanmar’s parliament Monday, with lofty expectations that the first popularly-elected government in decades can reset a country ground down by half a century of military rule.

Hundreds of new MPs streamed into the Naypyidaw parliament on Monday morning to take up seats won in historic November elections.

The poll saw Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) wrest a majority from the army establishment and spur hopes of a new political era in the long repressed nation.

“We will work to get human rights and democracy as well as peace,” NLD MP Nyein Thit told reporters as he arrived at the cavernous parliament building.

But many of the NLD’s lawmakers are political novices in a parliament where 25 percent 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.

“It’s a historic moment for the country,” said Myanmar political analyst Khin Zaw Win of the new parliament, which is stuffed with NLD lawmakers who won nearly 80 percent of elected seats.

“This is what we have tried to do, tried to achieve and fight for all these years, but when the moment really comes a lot of worries come as part of the package,” he said, adding that Suu Kyi and her colleagues would have to learn fast on the job.

Suu Kyi is barred from being president by a military-scripted constitution because she married and had children with a foreigner.

She 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 succeed President 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 percent 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 balked at any attempt to redraft it.

After decades under the military yoke, Myanmar’s people queued in their thousands to cast ballots for Suu Kyi and her party in November, throwing their support behind her simple campaign message of “change.”

With a resounding parliamentary majority, her lawmakers are — at least initially — expected to act as a rubber stamp for her government.

The country has begun to blossom since the end of outright army rule in 2011.

Thein Sein’s quasi-civilian government has since opened the long-isolated country to international investment and launching sweeping political reforms.

But Myanmar remains blighted by civil wars and ethnic and religious divisions, while poverty rates are high and the country’s bureaucracy is poorly funded and riven with corruption.

On the streets of Yangon, ordinary people said they were however optimistic about what she could achieve.

“We have been hoping for an NLD government for a long time. I feel happy now,” said 22-year-old dentist Kyaw Htet.