Burmese Democracy Party Skips Parliament Opening

Posted April 23rd, 2012 at 6:20 am (UTC-5)
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Burma's parliament reopened Monday with democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi and 42 other members of her National League for Democracy party refusing to take their seats in a dispute over the oath of office.

Party officials say the NLD contingent will not take their seats until the oath is changed so that they need not swear to protect a constitution written by the former military junta. Party spokesman Nyan Win told reporters Monday he believes the issue will be resolved quickly.

“I think within 10 days it will be overcome.”

The NLD wants the oath changed so they are required to “respect” the constitution rather than “safeguard” it, but the ruling party has so far refused.

President Thein Sein, visiting Tokyo, told reporters Monday he has no plans to change the wording of the oath, but insisted he will never reverse the ongoing democratization process.

Nicholas Farrelly, a Burma analyst at the Australian National University, tells VOA he expects the NLD and the government to move toward some kind of compromise over the next few days or weeks.

“Aung San Suu Kyi is in a much stronger position than she has been in recent decades, but we shouldn't pretend that she is actually able to get absolutely everything that she and her supporters will demand. They seem to be talking about this current set of discussions in a sense implying that they are prepared to do a deal with the government to make this work for everyone. They don't want to be in a position where down the track they feel that their hands are tied because they have sworn this oath which has a particular set of words that they are not entirely comfortable with.”

Before the April 1 by-elections, Aung San Suu Kyi said one of her priorities as a legislator would be to amend the 2008 constitution, under which a full quarter of the seats in parliament are reserved for unelected members of the military.

The dispute cast a shadow over rapidly-thawing ties between Burma, isolated under a half-century of military rule, and the international community, which has pledged to ease long-standing economic sanctions in return for democratic reforms promised by the new, nominally civilian government.

Buoyed by recent overtures from the government, Aung San Suu Kyi has supported European and U.S. moves to begin lifting some sanctions. She has also announced plans for her first trip abroad in 24 years, after spending much of the past two decades under house arrest ordered by the former military government.