Elected representatives of Burmese opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy are set to boycott parliament following a rejection by authorities of a proposed change in the wording of the oath that lawmakers must take.
NLD Party Secretary Nyan Win traveled to the capital Naypyidaw on Thursday to convince election officials and legislators to change the oath from a vow to “safeguard” the constitution to one that pledges to “respect” the set of laws.
But he said that he was informed that the change was “unnecessary.”
“Because of the decision by the Election Tribunal, NLD representatives will not be able to attend the parliament, which will resume on April 23,” Nyan Win said.
But he indicated that there might still be a resolution to the issue.
The decision was made by the election body and not the Burmese government as a whole, including reformist President Thein Sein, according to Nyan Win.
"It didn't go well,” Nyan Win said of the meeting. “We submitted an interpretation, and they said it is irrelevant.”
“They didn't say it can't be changed, but it is not up to this office [to do so] and [they said] it is irrelevant."
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, include 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.
Before the decision on Thursday, Aung San Suu Kyi had told RFA that the NLD would attend parliament after the oath had been changed.
“We won't say we are not attending parliament. We will attend after the oath [is amended],” she said.
“Regarding changing the phrase, it is in accordance with the constitution … I hope there will not be a problem with this."
Aung San Suu Kyi acknowledged that her party would encounter significant obstacles to the democratic process in parliament, but that they were prepared to engage those who are resistant to reform.
“First we have to find out why they don't want reform. There must be a reason. It is difficult to say how we would handle [the issue without knowing the reasons],” she said.
“We expect to interact with various views when we are in parliament. Only then will we be able to decide how to find proper solutions.”
Thein Sein’s nominally civilian government needs Aung San Suu Kyi and the NLD’s participation to add legitimacy to the spate of economic and political reforms it has enacted since taking power from the military in March last year.
The NLD thrashed Thein Sein’s Union Solidarity and Development Party in historic April 1 by-elections which saw Aung San Suu Kyi and other party officials win 43 of 45 parliamentary seats up for grabs.
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.
Nyan Win said he was told by the election body that a similar oath was taken by most parliamentarians around the world.
He said the NLD would likely make an announcement soon about its next step.
Thein Sein has yet to respond to requests from the NLD to amend the clause in the constitution for the swearing-in oath, and some wonder if he has the political backing to make the change.
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 the current impasse could last for several months, and some lawmakers say a parliamentary vote might be required.
Reported by RFA’s Burmese service. Translated by Khin May Zaw. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.