Myanmar Lawmakers Celebrate End of an Era, Beginning of New One

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myanmar-shwe-mann-addresses-parliament-jan29-2016.jpg Myanmar's outgoing parliamentary speaker Shwe Mann talks to reporters during a news conference after the National Assembly's last meeting in Naypyidaw, Jan. 29, 2016.

Myanmar’s outgoing speaker of the lower house called the November elections which the opposition National League for Democracy (NLD) party won by a landslide a “people’s victory” during his farewell speech at the final session of the outgoing parliament on Friday.

Shwe Mann said he was unhappy about the ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party’s (USDP) loss to the NLD in the Nov. 8 general elections, but indicated that the results reflected a triumph of the country’s citizens.

“I was sorry that we lost the elections, but as I said before, the people won the elections, so that as one of the people, I also won the elections,” he said. “Daw [honorific] Aung San Suu Kyi also said that it was not a victory for her candidates, but just an election by the people. So, the people won the elections.”

Shwe Mann also said he was responsible for arranging a meeting between Aung San Suu Kyi and 82-year-old former military dictator Than Shwe, who served as head of state from 1992 to 2011, last December in hopes that it would be beneficial to healing political rifts.

Aung San Suu Kyi also had one-on-one meetings with President Thein Sein, military commander-in-chief Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, and Shwe Mann, who was the first to sit down with her.

“I believe [the meeting] paved way for a situation where these meetings would take place,” he said.

Later at a press conference, Shwe Mann called Aung San Suu Kyi a “visionary leader,” when asked about the role that she would play in the new government.

The 70-year-old politician cannot become president because of a constitutional provision barring citizens with foreign spouses or children from seeking the office. Nevertheless, Aung San Suu Kyi has said that she will operate above the president, who will likely be another NLD politician.

Shwe Mann, a de facto ally of Aung San Suu Kyi, said he would consider any position that she might want him to fill in the NLD-led government.

The NLD government must share power with the military which controls a quarter of the seats in parliament and is responsible for leadership appointments at three key security ministries.

“The military will remain involved in politics, although its main focus should be security and defense,” Shwe Mann said. “But when the military believes it should solely focus on the security and defense of the country, then I think it will withdraw from politics.”

Myanmar’s powerful military ruled the nation for five decades before the military-backed USDP came to power in 2011 and began to liberalize politics and society.

Aung San Suu Kyi said that both friends and foes of the NLD could be beneficial to the new government during her farewell speech to outgoing lawmakers, who celebrated on Friday by singing farewell songs, performing ethnic minority dances, and eating a meal together in the grand hall at the parliament building in the capital Naypyidaw.

“There is a proverb,” she said. “First, the greatest possession in the world is having a great friend. Second, the greatest possession is having a great enemy. I would say ‘rivals’ rather than ‘enemies’ for our democracy. These rivals or friends could help us sharpen our skills [for a democratic future].”

Reported by RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Kyaw Min Htun. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.


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