U.N. General Secretary Ban Ki Moon on Tuesday commended Aung San Suu Kyi for her party’s decision to end a boycott of Burma’s parliament, paving the way for elected members of the opposition group to accelerate the pace of democratic change in the country.
Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD), which swept historic by-elections on April 1, had refused to attend Burma’s National Assembly, or parliament, since the opening session last week due to the wording of an oath for new legislators.
On Monday Aung San Suu Kyi told reporters in Rangoon that the 43 members of her NLD will take the oath required for them to join Wednesday’s parliamentary meetings, but will not drop their opposition to the language of the pledge.
Ban congratulated Aung San Suu Kyi on her election victory and commended her agreement to take the oath as he spoke at a joint press conference after the two met at her home in Rangoon Tuesday.
“Politicians sometimes will continue to have differences on some issues, but a real leader demonstrates flexibility for the greater course of people and country,” Ban told reporters at the Nobel laureate’s lakeside estate.
“This is what she has done yesterday and I really admire and respect her decision. I’m sure that she’ll play a very constructive and active role as a parliamentarian for the betterment and well-being of this great country.”
Ban also invited Aung San Suu Kyi to visit the United Nations in New York, which the prodemocracy leader accepted, although she was unable to provide a date for when she would make the visit.
Ending a boycott
Aung San Suu Kyi said Monday that her party will work from within parliament to make changes to the oath and the constitution on which it is based. The NLD wants the wording changed so that lawmakers swear to “respect” the constitution instead of “safeguard” it.
Any proposed change to the oath, which would require a change to the constitution, would need the support of 20 percent of the parliament to be discussed and 75 percent to pass.
Burma’s constitution, pushed through by the former military junta in 2008, grants the military a set number of ministerial posts and one-quarter of the seats in both the upper and lower houses of parliament.
Aung San Suu Kyi has said she aims to amend the constitution to eventually remove the military from politics.
Burmese President Thein Sein has implemented a number of reforms since his nominally civilian government took power last year in March, though he refused to budge on the NLD’s proposal to change the wording of the oath.
The latest of those reforms, which have included the release of political prisoners and further engagement with the country’s armed ethnic groups, was a decision to allow the NLD to reregister as a political party after boycotting the country’s 2010 national polls and to take part in recent by-elections.
The NLD won 43 of 45 available seats in the legislature in the April 1 vote, becoming the main opposition force in a national parliament dominated by the military and its political allies.
The reforms have been welcomed by the members of the international community, which have gradually begun easing sanctions against the impoverished nation, initially put in place to deter human rights abuses by the former military regime.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in early April announced the beginning of “targeted easing” of bans on U.S. financial services and investment in Burma as part of a broader effort to help accelerate economic modernization and political reform.
And European Union officials announced last week that they would suspend trade, economic, and individual sanctions against Burma, which target more than 800 companies and 500 people, for one year before further review, while an arms embargo will remain intact.
Canada and Australia also moved to ease sanctions on Burma last week.
Ban Ki Moon, who became the first foreigner to address Burma’s parliament on Monday, urged a further lifting of sanctions by the international community before later meeting with Thein Sein for dinner in the capital Naypyidaw.
He had last visited Burma in July 2009 when he met with the leader of the then-ruling military junta General Than Shwe in what he described as a “very difficult mission.” He was not permitted to visit Aung San Suu Kyi, who was under house arrest at the time.
Reported by Joshua Lipes.