Thursday, May 17, 2012

Daw Aung Sun Su Kyi Enters the Union of Myanmar Parliament

Daw Su in Parliament
NAYPYIDAW — Myanmar pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi was sworn in as a member of parliament Wednesday, opening a new chapter in the Nobel laureate's near quarter-century struggle against authoritarian rule.

The 66-year-old, in the capital Naypyidaw for the ceremony, stood to read the brief oath in unison with 33 other members of her National League for Democracy party elected to the lower house in April, an AFP reporter said.

The oath hands Daw Aung Sun Su Kyi public office for the first time and marks a transformation in the fortunes of the opposition leader, who was held under house arrest for much of the last 20 years but is now central to the nation's tentative transition to democracy.

She had initially baulked at taking the oath, specifically a sentence pledging to "safeguard" the army-created constitution.

But on Monday she backed down after the head of the nominally civilian government President Thein Sein refused to offer concessions, explaining it was the "desire of the people" to see her party in office after breakthrough April 1 by-elections.

But the wildly popular daughter of assassinated independence hero Aung San also faces the difficulty of managing the expectations of a nation impatient for change and the hopes of Burmese who see her as a sole beacon for democratic freedom.

It is unclear how rapidly she can deliver on her ambitious campaign promises, including the overhaul of Myanmar’s army-drafted constitution, in a legislature dominated by former members of the military junta who ruled for nearly half a century before ceding to a quasi-civilian government last year.

“Only time will tell,” she replied when asked by a Reuters reporter of the day’s significance, as she waded through a chaotic throng of reporters on her way to the chamber where she took the oath in a shortened 40-minute session.
Later, she told reporters: “I have always been cautiously optimistic about developments. In politics, you also have to be cautiously optimistic.”

Ms Suu Kyi’s entry into parliament comes a month after her party’s landslide victory in a by-election and two days after backing down in a stand-off over the wording of an oath to protect the constitution sworn by all new members of parliament.

The parliamentary session was to have ended on Monday but was extended in part to allow Ms Suu Kyi and fellow members of the National League for Democracy (NLD) to take their seats.
Entering the chamber, she at first sat down on her own, near the block reserved for serving military men who have a quarter of the seats under the constitution, and seemed relaxed as other lawmakers greeted her.

She then lined up with colleagues to take the oath, including a pledge to uphold a constitution her party wants to change because it gives the military a leading political role.
Asked if she felt awkward working with the military, she replied, “Not at all, I have tremendous goodwill towards the military. It doesn’t in any way bother me to sit with them.”

Her comments reflect the dramatic scale of change in the former Myanmar, given the military’s past treatment of Ms Suu Kyi, who was first detained by the army in 1989, and then spent 15 of the next 21 years in detention until her release from house arrest in November 2010.

Many lawmakers hope Ms Suu Kyi’s parliamentary debut will be a catalyst for further reform by the government of President Thein Sein, a former general who has freed hundreds of political prisoners, legalised trade unions and protests, and started a dialogue with  ethnic minority rebels.

“Parliament will be stronger because of her good relationship with the international community,” said Khin Maung Yi, a lawmaker from the National Democratic Force party. “We parliamentarians have wanted her in the legislature for a long time ... Many laws have to be changed and amended.”

Speaking to reporters after Wednesday's ceremony the veteran dissident said: "I believe I can serve the interests of the people more than before".

She was then whisked away by car to Naypyidaw airport to return to Yangon.

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