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Burma Opens Its New “Parliament”

by Joshua Kurlantzick
February 2, 2011

A still image taken from video shows the inaugural session of the Myanmar parliament in Naypyitaw

A still image taken from video shows the inaugural session of the Myanmar parliament in Naypyitaw February 1, 2011. (Ho New/Courtesy Reuters)

Earlier this week, Burma officially opened its new “parliament,” the result of the highly criticized national elections held last fall. The parliament nominated two senior military men as speakers. General Shwe Mann became speaker of the lower house, in the tightly guarded parliament in the purpose-built military capital of Naypyidaw. The regime also has written an absurd number of regulations that limit what the parliament can do – intricate rules that allow powerful military men to cut off debate or motions, or simply squelch dialogue altogether. The army’s favored party, too, already controls about eighty percent of all seats in the parliament.

The choices of speakers aren’t exactly a good sign. Shwe Mann, the third ranking general in the previous military regime, is known as a close ally of ruling Senior General Than Shwe, and Shwe Mann possibly may be the next head of the Burmese military.

In the run up to the election, some observers, including myself, believed that even some degree of civilianization of Burmese politics would be helpful for the country’s future, though the military obviously would remain in control overall. Civilianization might allow for limited economic reforms, of the type pushed by China on its ally. But increasingly even this limited, very mild reform, is looking unlikely. The opposition politicians who, unlike Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy, chose to participate in last fall’s election, are looking more and more isolated, and some of them are regretting their decision. While countries like Egypt seem on the brink of change, Burma remains a stubborn exception.

Post a Comment 2 Comments

  • Posted by Naing Ko Ko

    Dear Josh,
    Thank you very much for you’re keenly interested in the politics of Burma.

    Let me straightforwardly give you some suggestion is that those Mps elects are not allowed to take any electronic gadgets with them such as any cell phone, camera and iPod.

    A horrific surprising is that they are not allowed to raise any counter question in the parliament sections. Can you think about that a parliament where you are not allowed to ask any questions? What a shame of such parliament in 21 Century !!.

    On top of this, I’ve really noticed that you have a nice sentence on other pro-collaborative groups what you named as The opposition politicians who, unlike Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy, chose to participate in last fall’s election, are looking more and more isolated, and some of them are regretting their decision.

    It is 100% true, Josh, now they said that they made a wrong decision to contest this military dominated election. I was shocked too , when I saw thousand of thousands of new generation youths are following with DASSK’s trips. Where ever she goes, those youth are following with her.

    Anyway, I really would like to say thank you very much and have a great day up there.
    Best wishes,

  • Posted by SaiOo

    This parliament will not provide any changes in the country. Further, consolidation of power is taking place politically on the military side. Suu Kyi is a de facto humanitarian worker. It will be best for the country if Suu Kyi retire from Burmese Politic. They have done considerable damages by not implementing any policy and not foreseeing the obvious political maneuver from Military. I cannot agree with you more that some politician (Pre-colonial generation) in NLD are regretting their actions.

    My view: Suu Kyi has been selling this product call Democracy and freedom to Burmese People, and she has made a good sale. This was over 20 years ago. Now, her new customers are the member of Myanmar Armed Forces. Her marketing plan toward this target group is virtually none. On top of this, Suu Kyi and NLD reassure to their potential customers, “if you purchase our product called ‘Democracy’, this product will cause your downfall”. Naturally, the military, even the moderate ones, are being push away by unsound strategies from NLD and Suu Kyi.
    (Suu Kyi likes to fight the battle which is not important in her revolutionary process. i.e, pressing for internet access to communicate with the world via social network, Issuing statements via their web, FACT: less than 100,000 have access to internet 2 hours per week, out of 55 millions Burmese)

    Washington, Beijing and ASEAN:

    Mid East is the vital region for Washington. North East Asia security concern is rather a Balance policy and it is an important one. But, The United States has a minor interest in Mainland south East Asia. A minor market provides a minor attention. Therefore, for Washington to draw up any plan to aid political development in Burma is zero. Various trade sanctions from Washington are merely a showcase and display set up by a few lawmakers from the hill. However, Suu Kyi and majority of pro-democratic forces misinterpreted Washington’ behavior. They always (especially Suu Kyi) regards Washington and Downing Street as a major tool to implement changes. According to numerous members of Burmese MOFA officers, the leaderships in Naypyidaw understand Washington policy a little too well that Washington will only condemn Myanmar new Parliament. No actions necessary.

    Beijing seeks stability with limited trade flow. The PRC and Myanmar relation is unlike Japan and The United States. It has a historical tide. Perhaps, fourth generation leadership still recalls a KMT/CIA incursion into Shan State and Burmese recognition of PRC in 1950 while the rest of the world was still in formal diplomatic communiqué with ROC. However this is only a speculation.
    But we do know that Beijing does not wants Suu Kyi in power and willing to support current regime at all cost due to the fact that the encounters with Burmese generals are far more convenience than any.

    ASEAN as a major trading partner with Myanmar never wish to see radical changes. While dealing with military government, ASEAN investors fully realize the political instability has been pulling back the growth and economic expansion. They also understand that the current government always favors them as precious foreign investors. This parliament in Myanmar may not be a functioning one, but ASEAN will fully support this process and warmly welcomes it, due to the protection of their market.
    Although NLD was never an official member of the government, they have been very critical of ASEAN policies toward Myanmar. Overall, ASEAN welcomes the new parliament in Naypyidaw.

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