The introduction of Aung San Suu Kyi-led opposition into the Parliament in Myanmar signals a key step towards efforts at introducing reforms in the country. The reforms may eventually be marginal, but it clearly indicates a shift in the military Junta’s stand.
Despite her party’s 1 April poll victory, Suu Kyi and her fellow NLD lawmakers will remain very much in the minority. This, because, a quarter of the seats are reserved for the military, and a large majority of others are held by the military-backed ruling party.
It is a paradox that some 18 months ago, Kyi was still under house arrest by the old military leadership. Last week however, she took her place in Row G of the parliamentary chamber, just across the aisle from the men in uniform. Though she was tormented by the military regime for years, she has the good will of a section of the military too, and is on record claiming that she was indifferent to the fact that she has to sit amongst the men in military.
The induction of Kyi into the Parliament is a dream reality to the pro-democracy supporters, but it had its share of disquiet. Moments before the swearing-in ceremony, Kyi had refused to take the oath of office because she disputed the terms used in the oath. It was only at the intervention of the UN representatives present on the occasion that some compromise formula was arrived at, and the swearing in ceremony was carried out.
Kyi and her party had vowed to change the country’s Constitution to remove the armed forces from politics, but this appears to be a far-fetched claim. For one, the Parliament is not an example of a democratic institution, since it was created by a Constitution foisted by the erstwhile military rulers through a rigged referendum. At the first elections to Parliament under the new Constitution, Kyi’s party boycotted the polls. The only time free election was held were in 1990, when the Kyi’s party swept the elections, but the Junta annulled it.
Kyi’s party currently has just 44 seats, while the army-backed ruling party has two-thirds in the 660-member strong Parliament. Therefore, it is predictable that Kyi will be powerless to amend the Constitution, which needs at least 75 per cent votes in support of any amendment.
There’s a misconceived notion that with Kyi in saddle, Myanmar is poised for great changes. The charter gives the military wide powers, including the ability to appoint cabinet members, take control in a state of emergency and occupy a quarter of seats in parliament. Of course, with her arrival on the scene, it was an extraordinary change for her and for her country, but expecting changes in the Constitution, merely by her party’s presence in Parliament means little, and therefore, appears illusionary. Kyi has the support of democracy lovers world-wide. This nonetheless is merely a psychological strength. There will be gestures of goodwill and compromises, because ultimately reforms have to go on. But in the quest to bring about reforms, there will be occasions when friction on both sides is predictable.