Burma’s New Military-Controlled Parliament Chooses Speakers

Monday, January 31st, 2011, VOA

Burma's new parliament held its first session Monday, electing two members of the country's ruling military junta as speakers of the legislative body's upper and lower chambers.

General Thura Shwe Mann, the third ranking general in the junta and former military chief of staff, was elected speaker of the 440-seat lower house.

Culture Minister Khin Aung Myint was elected speaker of the 224-seat upper house.

Neither choice came as a surprise since the vote was dominated by members of the ruling party and military representatives, who hold a vast majority of the seats in both houses.

Both chambers met for a joint session in the afternoon, with Khin Aung Myint acting as speaker.

The parliamentary sessions are expected to continue for days as legislators vote for the president and vice presidents. A new government is expected to be in place within a week.

The lawmakers are tasked with electing the country's first civilian president since a 1962 coup ushered in 49 consecutive years of military dictatorship. Burma held its first election in two decades on November 7.

They are meeting amid tight security in the new parliament building in Naypyitaw — the administrative capital built in Burma's isolated hinterland.

State and legislative assemblies across the country also convened Monday to elect their speakers.

More than 600 elected and designated lawmakers filed into the parliament building Monday. No foreign media representatives were allowed to witness the event, which has been touted by government leaders as evidence of its commitment to democracy.

Democracy advocates inside and outside the country are dismissing the parliament as a sham, noting that more than 80 percent of its lawmakers are tied directly to the military or its allies.

Government critics also note the conspicuous absence from the parliament of the opposition National League for Democracy party. The party was officially dissolved late last year, after choosing to boycott elections because its leader, Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, was not permitted to run for office.

The largest sanctioned opposition party, the National Democratic Force, won just 12 seats.

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