Myanmar’s Parliamentary Speaker Urges Pre-Election Lawmakers to ‘Play Fair’

2015-11-16
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Aung San Suu Kyi (C) attends Myanmar's first parliament meeting after the general elections in Naypyidaw, Nov. 16, 2015.
Aung San Suu Kyi (C) attends Myanmar's first parliament meeting after the general elections in Naypyidaw, Nov. 16, 2015.
AFP

Myanmar’s parliamentary speaker Shwe Mann on Monday urged lawmakers who lost their seats in last week’s general election to “play fair” and carry out their work as the legislature reconvened for its final session before incoming MPs are sworn in next year.

With some 99 percent of seats now accounted for, Aung San Suu Kyi’s opposition National League for Democracy (NLD) party has swept the Nov. 8 polls and secured a majority in the country’s parliament—earning the right to form its own government.

Senior ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) member and lower house speaker Shwe Mann—who was among those voted out of the legislature last week—addressed a “lame duck” session of parliament consisting of pre-election lawmakers, which resumed Monday following a recess period during the polls.

“Although most MPs, myself included, have little reason to return to parliament because we lost in the election, we must work in the interest of the country and people in good faith and fairness during the rest of our time as lawmakers,” he told the session in the capital Naypyidaw.

Shwe Mann also extended his thanks to “all organizations and individuals who participated in holding a successful election,” and pledged to collaborate with the new government and the military—which is guaranteed one-third of the seats in parliament under the constitution—to “ensure peace and stability in the post-election period.”

While most lawmakers lost their seats in the election, the current parliamentary session—which will last until the end of January—will have full power to pass legislation.

A number of laws overseeing business, the economy, the banking sector and the federal budget are scheduled for debate. Also up for discussion is the controversial “Right of Recall” bill, which would allow for the removal of lawmakers facing recall petitions from at least one percent of their constituents.

Once the session has concluded, the new NLD-dominated parliament will gather to choose a new speaker, two vice-presidents and a president. Aung San Suu Kyi is barred from seeking the presidency under the current military-drafted constitution, because her former husband and two sons are foreign nationals.

‘Smooth transition’

Shwe Mann’s call to lawmakers came a day after President Thein Sein committed to a “smooth transition” of power to the incoming government at a meeting with representatives of 86 of the 91 political parties who contested the elections at City Hall in Myanmar’s economic capital Yangon.

“During the remainder of my government’s term in office, existing laws, regulations, procedures, and guidance will continue to be upheld, and a smooth transition undertaken,” he said, according to a report in the official Global New Light of Myanmar.

Thein Sein also pledged to “send invitations for the convening of the second parliament” in accordance with “established procedures,” although he did not specify when that would be.

“After parliament step by step carries out its work, transfer to the resulting new government will occur within the designated timeframe. I would like to stress that this work will be undertaken calmly, peacefully, and smoothly,” he said.

The Democratic Voice of Burma quoted Myat Nyana Soe, an NLD lawmaker who was re-elected, as saying he doubted the current USDP-dominated chamber would undertake any major decisions during its final session, adding that parliament is still under Shwe Mann, who has good relations with Aung San Suu Kyi.

Forming a government

As of Monday, the NLD had captured 390 of the 664 seats in both houses of the Union Parliament, with 166 reserved for military appointees based on the 2008 military-drafted constitution, and 41 won by the USDP. The other reported seats have gone to a handful of the country’s ethnic political parties and independent candidates.

As the NLD prepares to form its own government, Aung San Suu Kyi has called for “national reconciliation” talks with Thein Sein, Shwe Mann and military commander-in-chief Min Aung Hlaing, which her party said would help it decide a course of political action going forward.

The NLD on Monday invited all MPs elected in last week’s vote to meet with Aung San Suu Kyi for a discussion on reforms the party is pursuing, NLD central committee member and lawmaker Win Htein told RFA’s Myanmar Service.

“She will meet [with] MPs from lower Myanmar [in Yangon] on Nov. 28 to explain the meaning behind the NLD slogan ‘time for change,’” he said, adding that a second meeting with elected lawmakers from the northern half of the country would be held at a later date in Naypyidaw.

Win Htein told RFA that Aung San Suu Kyi has also cautioned elected NLD lawmakers to refrain from jockeying for positions of influence and urged them to focus on building a new government.

“She warned NLD MPs not to indulge in fantasies of becoming ministers or deputy ministers,” he said.

Ethnic trust

Also on Monday, lawmaker and leader of the Arakan National Party (ANP) Aye Maung welcomed the NLD’s success in the general election, but cautioned that the party’s landslide victory threatened to alienate it from Myanmar’s myriad minority groups, who won little representation in parliament, including in their own ethnic states.

“It seems the NLD put ethnic interests at the back of its election strategy—it took [nearly] all parliament seats in ethnic areas,” he said, suggesting that the party had placed its focus on obtaining a majority in the legislature, rather than supporting ethnic candidates locally.

“This is why ethnic groups have expressed doubts about the NLD’s plan to move ahead with national reconciliation,” he added.

“But there is one way to erase these doubts—if the NLD can persuade ethnic groups it has their interests in mind for national reconciliation when it forms its government, the party will regain ethnic trust.”

In addition to its sweep of the Union Parliament, the NLD is in possession of majorities in the parliaments of Mon, Karen and Karenni states, where ethnic political parties all fared poorly. The party also holds pluralities in the Kachin and Chin state legislatures, though some seats have yet to be reported.

Reported by Win Ko Ko Lat, Win Naung Toe, Myo Thant Khine and Kyaw Thu for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.

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