MYANMAR’S parliament, led for the first time by pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi’s party, began a historic session yesterday that will install the country’s first democratically elected government in more than 50 years.
The National League for Democracy (NLD) won a landslide victory in 8 November elections, taking about 80 per cent of the seats at stake in the two houses of parliament to defeat the military-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party.
Many legislators expressed hope that yesterday marked the beginning of a new, brighter era following decades of military oppression, civil war and pervasive poverty. “This is like a dream for me,” said Khin Maung Myint, a NLD politician before the largely ceremonial two-hour session. “I never imagined that our party would be able to form the government. Even the public didn’t think we could have an NLD government. But now it is like a shock to us and to the world too.”
Legislators from the two main parties, smaller ethnic minority parties, and military-appointed representatives filed into the cavernous parliament for the lower house session and took a joint oath of office.
Most wore the traditional dress of the Burman majority or of the Shan, Karen, Kachin, Lisu and other minorities who make up nearly 40 per cent of the country’s 52 million people but in the past have been poorly represented in the central government.
The session marks a historic turnaround for the NLD, which for years was suppressed by the military. Generals ruled the country directly or indirectly after seizing power in 1962, and over the years jailed hundreds of NLD leaders, including Ms Suu Kyi, while crushing overt political activity.
The southeast Asian nation started moving away from dictatorship toward democracy in 2011, when the military rulers agreed to hand over power to a nominally civilian government headed by President Thein Sein, a general-turned-reformist.
He will step down in late March or early April when an NLD president takes over.
Ms Suu Kyi is constitutionally barred from taking the presidency because her sons and late husband are British citizens, and has vowed to rule from behind the scenes through a proxy.