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No-show by Suu Kyi's party at oath-taking

Publication Date : 24-04-2012

 

Myanmar President Thein Sein yesterday appeared to rule out any change to an oath that Members of Parliament have to take before assuming their seats, deepening a deadlock with newly elected members of the opposition National League for Democracy (NLD).

Thein Sein, who is on a visit to Japan, told reporters it was up to NLD leader Aung San Suu Kyi whether or not she took her seat in Parliament.

The 43 NLD members including Suu Kyi, elected on April 1 in by-elections, have refused to take the oath in its current form. They were to have taken the oath yesterday, at the opening of a new parliamentary session, but failed to turn up.

The opposition party says it cannot have its members swear to "protect" the Constitution when they have promised in their campaign to amend it. They want the word "protect" changed to "respect".

Meanwhile, despite the dispute over the oath, the European Union agreed yesterday to suspend most of its sanctions against Myanmar for a year.

EU foreign ministers decided to suspend the sanctions during a meeting in Luxembourg in recognition of democratic reforms in Myanmar after half a century of military rule.

The resolution of the dispute over the oath-taking, which surfaced last week, is important for the reform process, as the government needs to gain credibility with the international community by seeing the NLD assume its role in Parliament.

But a change to the oath would also not go down well with hundreds of already sitting MPs, who may then accuse the government of caving in to pressure from the NLD.

The NLD, while praised in some quarters for sticking to its principles, is also under fire for potentially risking Myanmar's democratisation process, which is still in its infancy, over this detail.

"It is ill-advised [for the NLD] to do this kind of thing at this time," said former political prisoner Khin Zaw Win, on the phone from Yangon.

"Now after all this, after people have voted for them, there's an obstacle even before they take their seats."

He added: "Right now, a compromise has to be reached. Something has to give on both sides. But it is not happening."

Analysts say the President's hands are tied. Changing the oath may require a vote in Parliament, and most observers were until yesterday morning hoping that the NLD MPs would take the existing oath and their seats and then take up the issue.

The larger reform process remains intact, and NLD leader Suu Kyi is preparing for her first trip out of the country - to Europe - in 24 years in June.

But the deadlock over the oath also risks sending a signal to the military, at a time when the reform process is still fragile, that the party is uncompromising.

Changing the Constitution is at the core of the NLD's principles not only because the current Constitution was drawn up by the military, but also because it lays out a system which, while considerably more complex and open than the previous military dictatorship, allocates 25 per cent of parliamentary seats to unelected representatives of the military. NLD spokesman Nyan Win still seemed reasonably confident that a solution would be found in the days ahead.

He told the Associated Press yesterday: "We are cooperating with the government, so the problem will be overcome."

Meanwhile, the mood even among many supporters of the NLD was turning sour, sources in Yangon said.

One Yangon-based analyst said: "Aung San Suu Kyi risks losing the support of people in the elites, in the system, and even in other governments in the region."

"It was supposed to be a day to celebrate, but we are in another crisis," said Aung Naing Oo, Chiang Mai-based deputy director of the Vahu Development Institute.

He has been returning to Myanmar recently to join in the reform pro-cess, which is backed by a range of civil society groups.

 

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