Myanmar’s new parliament opened Monday morning amid tight security that presaged the advent of “discipline-flourishing democracy” in the military-led country.
Barricades were in place on roads leading to the massive parliament compound in Naypyitaw, Myanmar’s capital since 2005, 350 km north of Yangon.
Hundreds of legislators who were elected in the November 7 polls were rounded up at their guesthouses at 7:15 am and transported under the escort of plain-clothes police to the parliament compound, a 31-chamber structure covering 330 hectares, that cost an estimated 100 million dollars to build.
The first session of the upper and lower houses of parliament started exactly at 8:55 am (0225 GMT). The odd starting time is attributed to military supremo Senior General Than Shwe, who is known to be a believer in numerology.
Than Shwe, junta chief since 1992, is still very much in charge of the country’s political process, observers said. In past speeches the general has vowed to steer the country towards a “discipline—flourishing democracy.” In the stage—managed November general election, the first to be held in two decades, the pro-junta Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) won 77 per cent of the seats in the upper, lower and regional chambers of parliament.
The polls were condemned by Western democracies for being neither free nor fair nor inclusive.
Military appointees make up 25 per cent of lawmakers in the three chambers, giving the military bloc veto power over any future legislation. Only the upper and lower houses meet in Naypyitaw this week. The regional and state parliaments will meet separately in their own capitals.
The first item of the agenda is to select temporary chiefs for the upper and lower houses and appointee blocs who will then organize the nominations of their presidential candidates.
“As a legislator, I will vote whatever I like,” said Khin Maung Yi, a member of National Democratic Force (NDF), an opposition party.
The NDF, a breakaway faction from the National League for Democracy, won only 1.5 per cent of the contested seats.
The president is expected to be selected before mid—February.
Than Shwe, who turns 78 on Wednesday, is a likely candidate, although he may chose to push a protege into the presidency and control him from “behind the curtain,” government sources said.
Other possible candidates for are Prime Minister Thein Sein and Shwe Mann, the number three in the junta, political observers said.
The new president will select a cabinet, which is expected to be packed with USDPmembers and military appointees.
“It seems that Than Shwe will try to maintain the status quo in the new setting of government after the parliament starting on Monday,” said political scientist Win Min, currently at Harvard University. “So, same wine in the old bottle.”
Keywords: Myanmar political developments