Myanmar's recently elected parliament has convened at Naypyidaw, but it would be unwise to expect first-hand accounts of the session in the media. In the “discipline-flourishing democracy” of the junta, journalists were not allowed to cover the opening day's proceedings. There can be no visitors to this parliament, and anyone other than a legislator caught entering the building faces a one-year prison term and fine. The shadow of the junta is everywhere. The new bicameral parliament has 664 members, of which nearly 500 belong to the Union Solidarity and Development Party, a proxy for the military regime that goes by the name of State Peace and Development Council (SPDC). Separately, 25 per cent of the seats in both houses go to serving military officers. Together, the junta controls, more or less, 82 per cent of the parliamentary seats. The opposition, represented by the National Democratic Force, a splinter group of Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy, has a mere 16 seats. (The NLD boycotted the elections.) Parties representing Myanmar's ethnic nationalities form another small clutch of opposition voices. But the military's brute majority ensures that the reins are firmly in its hands. Any opposition proposal seeking reforms in governance, in the Constitution, or in the political system, is certain to meet a swift end. In any case, the rules governing proceedings give opposition members little room to freely ask questions, or introduce legislation. The elections, held in November 2010, were a sham exercise in democracy; the convening of the parliament is an extension of this trickery.
The legislators are to elect a President who will head the new government that will replace the SPDC. It is certain that he will be a trusted representative of the junta. Will Senior General Than Shwe put up his own name or is it going to be another general slightly lower in the hierarchy? The military will also be well represented in the cabinet. There should be no doubt now that Ms Suu Kyi took the right step in boycotting the election. Her participation in the junta's “road map to democracy” could have only given it legitimacy. On her release from long years of house arrest, an event timed by the junta to immediately follow the election, the Nobel Laureate spoke about dialogue with the military towards national reconciliation and putting in place a genuine democracy in Myanmar. The regime has not responded to the offer. Ms Suu Kyi's shining achievement has been to demonstrate through thick and thin that she remains immensely popular with the people of her country — and therefore cannot be written out of Myanmar's political equation.