Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy party is negotiating with Burmese election officials and legislators to resolve an impasse over an oath for elected representatives ahead of a new session of parliament Monday.
“I am not at liberty to tell you about the specific points right now, but we are working on rephrasing the wording in this oath so that it can be amended,” NLD Party Secretary Nyan Win told RFA’s Burmese service in an interview on Friday.
On Thursday, Nyan Win had traveled to the capital Naypyidaw to meet with officials about a rewording of a clause in the oath which requires incoming members of parliament to vow to “safeguard” the constitution.
Burmese authorities rejected the NLD proposal of a pledge to “respect” the set of laws, but Nyan Win said that his party would continue work to find common ground.
Elected NLD officials have vowed to boycott the opening of parliament if the oath is not amended before Monday.
“There is a need to change the oath, and this is in accordance with the existing law and according to the constitution,” Nyan Win said Friday.
“We are sending our recommendations to the concerned authorities and we will continue sending [proposals] tomorrow too. We are waiting for [their response] and after correcting, we are certain to attend parliament.”
A clause in the oath says lawmakers have to protect and safeguard the constitution, which NLD officials say contradicts the policy of the party, which grabbed 43 of the 44 seats it contested, including one won by Aung San Suu Kyi herself.
The NLD would become the biggest opposition party in the military-dominated legislature.
The oath is based on the country’s constitution, which Aung San Suu Kyi aims to amend to eventually remove the military from politics.
The constitution was pushed through by the former military junta in 2008. It grants the armed forces a set number of ministerial posts and one-quarter of the seats in both the upper and lower houses of parliament.
Nyan Win said that officials from Burma’s Election Tribunal had informed him of their views on the proposed changes in a cordial manner on Thursday and that the NLD was working on a new proposal for rewording the oath based on that discussion.
“Mainly, they explained to us about their legal point of view regarding that version of the oath, in a very friendly manner, and we thank them for that,” he said.
“However, we have different views on some of the facts they explained to us.
He noted that NLD party chief Aung San Suu Kyi had specifically discussed the oath of office with Burmese President Thein Sein during their second official meeting held last week, and he said the two had reached an “understanding” on the issue, without elaborating.
“I don't know the details about the discussion. What I know is that it has been discussed and there was an understanding on the issue—that's all,” he said.
Yesterday, Nyan Win stressed that the Election Tribunal’s decision was not reflective of the views of the Burmese government as a whole, including reformist President Thein Sein.
Thein Sein has yet to respond to requests from the NLD to amend the clause in the swearing-in oath, and some wonder if he has the political backing to make the change.
Aung San Suu Kyi, who also won a seat in parliament as part of the NLD’s drubbing of Thein Sein’s Union Solidarity and Development Party in historic April 1 by-elections, fully supported the decision to pursue changes to the swearing-in oath.
“She agrees with what we are trying to do now,” Nyan Win said.
Aung San Suu Kyi and other party officials won 43 of 45 parliamentary seats up for grabs in the polls which were the latest in a series of economic and political reforms Thein Sein’s nominally civilian government has enacted since taking power from the military in March last year.
Thein Sein needs Aung San Suu Kyi and the NLD’s participation in parliament to add legitimacy to those reforms.
The NLD, which was banned after it boycotted 2010 national elections, agreed to reregister to contest the by-elections only after the Election Commission changed wording in the political party registration law requiring candidates to "respect” instead of “safeguard” the constitution.
But those changes did not apply to the parliamentary swearing-in oath.
Aung San Suu Kyi was set to join parliament on the same day that the European Union was expected to announce the lifting of some sanctions based on a meeting of its foreign ministers in Luxembourg—an action she had endorsed while meeting with British Prime Minister David Cameron on Friday.
The U.S. and Australia are expected to also lift some sanctions against Burma in the near future.
But if left unresolved by Monday, the current impasse could last for several months, and some lawmakers say a parliamentary vote might be required.
Reported by Khin Khin Ei for RFA’s Burmese service. Translated by Khin May Zaw. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.