Burmese Democracy Party Skips Parliament Opening

Posted April 23rd, 2012 at 8:20 am (UTC-5)
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Burma's parliament reopened Monday with newly-elected democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi and 42 others in her National League for Democracy party refusing to take their seats in a dispute over the oath of office.

The dispute comes as the European Union suspended long-standing trade and economic sanctions against Burma for one year in response to political reforms in the Southeast Asian nation.

NLD party officials say their members 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 its parliamentarians 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.

In Luxembourg, EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton noted progress on political reforms in Burma by the new, nominally civilian government. But she also voiced concern about ongoing human rights abuses.

“Great progress has been made in Burma, but we remain very concerned about conflict and human rights abuses in some ethnic areas of Burma, particularly in Kachin state.”

Ashton, who visits Burma later this week, said there are still political prisoners in Kachin, and warned the sanctions can be reimposed if Burma turns in what she called “the wrong direction.”

Meanwhile, Nicholas Farrelly, a Burma analyst at the Australian National University, tells VOA he expects Aung San Suu Kyi's NLD party and the government to move toward some kind of compromise on the oath of office dispute in 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.