Burma oath standoff puts Suu Kyi's MP debut in doubt

By Aung Hla Tun | YANGON | Thu Apr 19, 2012

(Reuters) - Aung San Suu Kyi's planned debut in Burma's parliament next week could be shelved amid a standoff between her party and the government over one word used in the swearing-in oath for new lawmakers.

Newly elected MPs from Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy (NLD) party see the oath in its present form as a potential hurdle in plans to make an impact in a legislature influenced by the military, and refuse to sit in the chambers until it is changed.

Top NLD official Nyan Win travelled to the administrative capital Naypyitaw on Thursday to try to convince the election officials and legislators to change the vow to "safeguard the constitution" to instead say "respect the constitution", but it appears, without success.

The NLD's demand puts it on a collision course with other lawmakers and the reform-minded ex-generals in government, who want Suu Kyi in parliament to boost its credibility, but may not give in easily to its demand. The current lower house session is due to resume on Monday, with or without the 37 new NLD MPs.

"The chairman of the Election Tribunal explained to me ... this sort of oath has to be taken by parliamentarians at all parliaments across the world," Nyan Win said by telephone after his visit to Naypyitaw.

He said he would convey the message to Suu Kyi and the NLD would likely make an announcement soon about its next step.

Earlier on Thursday, Suu Kyi played down the standoff, expecting the government, for the good of democracy, to bow to her party's demands.

"We don't mean we will not attend the parliament, we mean we will attend only after taking the oath," she said, speaking in Burmese, during her weekly address on Radio Free Asia.

"Changing that wording in the oath is also in conformity with the constitution. I don't expect there will be any difficulty in doing it."

Suu Kyi carries immense political clout and her house debut was due to take place on the same day the European Union was expected to announce the suspension of some sanctions, as advocated by Suu Kyi last Friday. The United States and Australia are expected to follow suit in the coming months.

At the heart of the issue is Suu Kyi's plans to push to amend the constitution to eventually cut the military out of politics. The constitution grants the armed forces a quota of ministerial portfolios and 25 percent of seats in all legislative chambers.

Suu Kyi won a place in the lower house when the NLD won 43 of 45 available seats in a historic April 1 by-election, thrashing President Thein Sein's ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party, the dominant force in the legislature.


Thein Sein has offered olive branches to the opposition that was persecuted by the regime he was part of and for years hobbled its attempts to establish the military dominated political system now in place.

He has yet to respond to the NLD's request and may not have the political will, or the executive power, to make the change.

But the issue could drag on for several months and some lawmakers say a house vote might be required.

"The government may be in dilemma. They want to sort out this issue as soon as possible so that Aung San Suu Kyi can attend, but legally it is not that easy to change the wording," said a lower house parliamentarian, requesting anonymity.

Aung Thu Nyein, a senior associate with Burmese think-tank, the Vahu Development Institute, said the NLD's demand may not sit well with the more than 600 other lawmakers, who might block moves to change the oath and force Suu Kyi's party back on to the sidelines.

"The NLD should see the bigger picture," he said. "The government has already made concessions in letting them run during the elections and more, so the NLD should focus on comprehensive political and economic reforms instead.

"If other parliamentarians block such actions the NLD will be back to square one," he added.

(Additional reporting by Amy Sawitta Lefevre in Bangkok; Writing by Martin Petty; Editing by Ron

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