Debate On Policies Slim

Burma's new parliament convenes with ethnic-based parties unhappy over election of key posts.
2011-01-31
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Burmese policemen inspect a bus carrying members of parliament at a checkpoint in the capital Naypyidaw, Jan. 31, 2010.
Burmese policemen inspect a bus carrying members of parliament at a checkpoint in the capital Naypyidaw, Jan. 31, 2010.
AFP

A top legislator linked to Burma's ruling military junta has doused hopes of any lively debate in the country's first elected parliament convened on Monday.

"Only articulate people can conduct debate in parliament," said ex-general and culture minister Khin Aung Myint, fresh from being elected as chairman of the upper House of Nationalities.

"It is a waste of time and so we do not allow debate in parliament in the interest of efficiency," he said in an opening speech.

His remarks were broadcast over local radio and television as more than 600 lawmakers filled two new "Hluttaws," or legislative chambers, in the opening session on Monday following rare but widely criticized elections in November.  

The members from the House of Representatives and the House of Nationalities will pick Burma's first civilian president since a 1962 coup ushered in nearly half a century of continued military dictatorship.

The remarks by Khin Aung Myint from the military-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), which swept the November polls, dampened expectations of even basic debate on policies under an elected administration.

Disappointed

Some opposition lawmakers said they were disappointed by the initial signals emerging from the new parliament, emphasizing the need for transparency and fairness.
 
"If we are genuinely moving towards a true union and true democratic state, we expect transparency," said lawmaker Aye Maung of the Rakhine National Democracy party.

His remarks were apparently aimed at the secret election Monday for key posts in the legislature, which is believed to have sidelined lawmakers from key ethnic groups.

The media was barred from covering the parliament proceedings as well as the election process for the top legislative posts.

Ethnic-based parties had expected at least a vice-chairman's post in either of the chambers, but leaders from the Mon and Shan ethnic groups were thrashed in the election as they received little support from the military-dominated parliament, some lawmakers said.

Military appointees, who occupy 25 percent of seats in both houses, attended the parliament's session in military uniforms. They are seen to be to loyal to 78-year-old junta supremo General Than Shwe, who some think may take the post of president.

"Lawmakers from ethnic-based parties make up less than 25 percent of the legislature," Aye Maung said.

The country's first two presidents after independence from Britain in 1948 had hailed from key ethnic groups.

Speculation

The junta's third-ranking official, Thura Shwe Mann, was elected as chairman of the lower house, ending speculation that he would become president of the new government.

"U Shwe Mann is chairman and Nanda Kyaw Zwa is vice-chairman. Nanda Kyaw Zwa is a son of former Brigadier-General Tin Pe" said Soe Win, an MP from the National Democratic Force (NDF), which is made up mostly of former members of the National League for Democracy (NLD) who disagreed with democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi's call to boycott the election. They won a mere 16 seats in the November polls.

Tin Pe was a member of former dictator Ne Win's Revolutionary Council, which staged the first coup d'état in 1962.

Aung San Suu Kyi was released from house arrest just after the elections. Her NLD group has launched its own website in its bid to fight for political change.

"A good communication system is essential to our endeavor to set up a people's network for democracy that will span the whole world," Aung San Suu Kyi wrote in her greeting on the site, dated Sunday.

She said www.nldburma.org would make the NLD's work "known across the globe."

Young people

The Nobel laureate was finally allowed Internet access at her home in Burma's former capital Rangoon earlier this month after seven consecutive years of isolation under house arrest.

She had said recently that she wanted to use the microblogging site Twitter and the social network Facebook to reach young people.

The NLD won a 1990 election in a landslide, but the result was never recognized by the junta, and Suu Kyi has spent most of the past two decades under arrest.
    
Reported by Zaw Moe Kyaw, Khin Khin Ei, and Kyaw Kyaw Aung for RFA's Burmese service. Translated by Soe Win. Written in English by Parameswaran Ponnudurai.

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