After sweeping a historic election in November, Myanmar’s democracy champion Aung San Suu Kyi yesterday bid farewell to outgoing lawmakers and prepared to form the country’s first democratically elected government since the 1960s.
The parliament dominated by members of her National League for Democracy — which won about 80% of elected seats last year— will convene for the first time on Monday, in another step of what has surprised experts as a remarkably stable — if drawn out— transfer of power.
Suu Kyi’s camp will start the formation of a government after decades-long struggle against the junta that had ruled Myanmar for 49 years. In 2011, it gave way to the semi-civilian government of President Thein Sein.
Celebrating the transition and the end of the first term of parliament, the outgoing and incoming lawmakers from all parties, as well as a military bloc, performed traditional dances, shared food and took pictures in an emotional ceremony in the capital, Naypyidaw. “I am very excited to be here. I will work very hard to promote female rights and to create more opportunities for our women,” said Myint Myint Soe, a newly elected NLD member of parliament.
Even though the politicians are generally optimistic, the months ahead are likely to be tense.
A junta-drafted constitution bars Suu Kyi from becoming president, gives the military control over three security ministries and a quarter of seats in parliament, which will force the NLD into constant negotiations with the armed forces.
NLD leaders have reassured the army, stressing their focus is on the future and the will to put the past behind them. They have also said they would not push for an immediate overhaul of the constitution.
“If they agree to amend the constitution earlier, it would show their faith in the country and their sympathy towards the people,” said Tin Oo, one of the party’s most respected leaders.
“But the NLD policy towards the military for now is not to put any pressure on them,” he said.
The new lawmakers will pick parliamentary speakers next week and the chamber will then turn to elect a president.
Suu Kyi has already said she would defy the constitution by staying “above the president”, and leading the country.
This has started speculation over who would be nominated for president. But that has remained a closely guarded NLD secret. One of the most public faces of the transition, parliament speaker Shwe Mann urged the military and the NLD to work together.
The former third most senior member of the junta who became a Suu Kyi ally, said he expected the Nobel Peace Prize laureate to “use me well” in the new administration.
Over the next few weeks, the upper house, the lower house and the military bloc in parliament will put forward one presidential candidate each. The combined houses will then vote on the three candidates.
The winner will become president and form a government and assume power by the end of March.
Chairperson of the National League for Democracy (NLD) Aung San Suu Kyi attends the last day of the Union parliament regular session in Naypyidaw yesterday.