NLD MPs face daunting challenge

Female labourers paint parliamentary block paving in Nay Pyi Taw ahead of the start of the new session. Photo: Asean Economist


Hundreds of new MPs from Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy will be sworn into parliament tomorrow (Monday) to choose the first democratically elected government since the military’s 1962 coup.

The NLD won around 80 per cent of contested seats in November’s election but the junta-drafted constitution means 25 per cent of parliamentary seats are set aside for military representatives and three important ministries fall under its control.

The NLD government does not take control of the executive until April.

“We are likely to announce the president in the second week of February,” said Win Htein, of the party central executive committee. The controversial Section 59(F) of the Constitution bars Aung San Suu Kyi from the presidency because her sons have British nationality.

This week the party will pick parliamentary Speakers and their deputies, who were announced last week.

Each of the parliament’s two houses will appoint a presidential candidate or vice president and the military representatives will select another. The combined chambers will then vote on the candidates. The winner will become president. The remaining two will serve as vice presidents.

Myanmar’s 51.5 million people expect the NLD to instantly bring an end to the many civil wars ravaging its fringes while releasing political prisoners, ending land seizures and reforming the education system.

Suu Kyi has said she will be “above the president”, and in complete control of the government, but the NLD has not explained how she will do this.

“To accomplish the challenges, they need to choose the right people and put them in right positions,” said Thura Shwe Mann, outgoing Speaker and a former general. “This is also my main concern, because it will decide the performance of her government.”

Many of the NLD MPs have served prison sentences and they include singers, lawyers and businessmen among their ranks, although few have political experience.

They will need to show the country they can deliver the “change” that was virtually the sole message of Suu Kyi’s campaign.

And that will not be easy considering the poverty, tattered education and health-care systems, corrupt judiciary and numerous civil wars. The 22 separate, powerful ethnic armies are expecting to Suu Kyi to establish a federal system and will presumably be quick to take up arms against Nay Pyi Taw if they are kept waiting too long.

“Our region is another world,” said Cing Ngaih Mang, a new MP for a small party from Chin State, impressed by the scale of the junta-built capital.

“The difference in development is like comparing earth and sky,” she said.

Some 390 NLD MPs are due to take their seats in the national parliament on Monday. Only around two dozen NLD MPs, including Suu Kyi, have legislative experience, meaning the party has few veterans to show new members the ropes.

The party has been running workshops in recent weeks, while new MPs visited Parliament to watch their predecessors in the last days of the previous session which ended on Friday.

Squat regimented housing blocks of shabby one-storey dormitories cost US$4 a day for the new MPs.

“We can endure it, we came here for the country,” said an anonymous NLD MP, adding many members had “served time in prison” and could live without luxury.

NLD Tin Thit MP said the experience was like a reunion, with former cellmates, school friends and other acquaintances gathered together in the sprawling, empty capital.