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New Year, New Parliament of Military but the Same Old Burma

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The year 2011 in Burma is significant as it begins with the opening session of the brand-new parliament in more than two decades. The ruling junta announced last week that the parliament would be convened at the new Houses of Parliament in Naypyidaw on 31 January. The election winning party, the Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) will find it quite exciting and the freshly elected - it would be truthful to say as - self-elected Representatives or Members of Parliaments of the military party would be thrilled to run the USDP government. Whether the people like it or not, the so-called Pyidaungsu Hluttaw or the Union Assembly will look quite odd showing off the patchwork of military Representatives in uniform and civilian clothes, the NUP (National Unity Party) Representatives who are remnants of the BSPP (Burma Socialist Programme Party) and the loyalists of former dictator General Ne Win, and a colourful and fistful of non-military Representatives, those claimed to be working for a change within and a few ethnic Representatives. For ethnic Representatives and other Representatives who hope to utilize the political spaces that are given, there seems to be no hope of change either in the parliament or in a broader sense, a significant change in the country under the hybrid -" pretends to be hybrid - military authorities. Very different to the hybrid regimes in other parts of the world, the new regime of Burma is simply changing half of its skin instead of sharing significant amount of power with non-military Representatives.

How would a tiny fraction of non-military and non-BSPP (Burma Socialist Programme Party) Representatives debate at the Parliament, propose the bills that truly guarantee the common interest of the people and make democratic laws? The soon-to-be convened parliament is in fact a place for the reunion of Burma's worst dictators, the BSPP loyalists and post-1988 new generation military tyrants. The stripping of military garbs for the sake of not stripping the political power has been a tradition since the BSPP reign. However, the Generals in post-1988 uprising Burma well realized that a parliament of nothing more to say than "Amen' at the end of preaching by the Party Chairman in one party state would no longer work in 21st century political order in Burma. To avoid the notorious military coups by reserving twenty-five percent military appointees as the National political leadership role of the State in accordance with the Constitution, ensuring that the majority of the rest of the seats are filled by the USDP Representatives who are entirely the military personnel in civilian clothes, and renamed the regime as the Republic, the Generals think all these features of newly militarized government looks much better comparing with pure military rule or single party dictatorship.

Apart from the mere difference of not wearing the military uniforms, the USDP Representatives will surely be in solidarity with their counterparts, military appointees in parliamentary affairs. Only the insignificant amount of constitutional power can be shared among a few ethnic and other political parties and it is very unlikely that either the ethnic Representatives or other Representatives such as the NDF (National Democratic Force) Representatives could effectively work for their constituencies. Yet, the Representatives of the National Unity Party (NUP) would be given a favourable share of power as a credit of being the BSPP loyalists and as the Second-in-Command to the USDP Representatives at the parliament. Since the USDP won the election with more than seventy-five percent seats, 883 of 1, 154 parliamentary seats, the high hopes of expanding the given political scope by ethnic and other Representatives could not become a reality. The significant numbers of the Representatives of the USDP, the NUP and the military appointees need to side with ethnic and other Representatives to alter the constitution which is a very unlikely scenario in this context of military hegemony at the parliament.

The numbers of non-military Representatives are lower in both houses and the voice of opposition has already been weakened either to work for the interest of ethnics or the people of the country. Further, the provision of fundamental rights according to the unilaterally adopted constitution has already been constrained as certain rights and liberties such as the freedoms of assembly, association and expression would be allowed if not contrary to the laws. Since the oppressive laws have been effective for more than twenty years to harass the political opponents and prevent the mutiny against the regime in power, freedom of opposition to the USDP at the parliament would be in vain. As the parliament has emerged through the complete absence of political equality, "one person, one vote; one vote, one value', the travesty of justice and the deficiency of legal equality, "equality before the law' will continue to exist under the USDP regime in Burma. The new parliament in the New Year of old Burma would simply become a stage for the military Representatives to dance according to the tunes of the Commander-in-Chief behind the scene. However, the Commander-in-Chief, Than Shwe might not stay behind the scene pulling the strings as the recent developments in Burma rumoured that Than Shwe would become the President of the renamed military dominated government.

For those claimed to struggle within the parliament for much more political freedoms would be tested whether they could force the military party to be more civilised and liberal. None the less, the recent voices of some elected Representatives including ethnic Representatives reflect their likely position which might be contradictory to the standpoints of the NLD and Daw Aung San Suu Kyi. The non-military Representatives seemed to prepare for dodging any possible collisions with the ruling party, the USDP at the Parliament. However, unable to stand as the strong and effective opposition Representatives at the parliament, the non-military and non-USDP Representatives have no options left but to change their stance instead of struggling to bend the military rule. Then, it will no longer make sense representing the people when they are not accountable but are free to continue their political careers unless they are ashamed of being contented to be the Representatives. Yet, the power that corrupts and the political status of Representative-ship might change the colours of the fistful non-military Representatives at the Parliament of Military. Whether the battles at the parliament are successful, one thing is for sure that the struggles outside the parliament will continue and the network of activists for genuine democracy and civilian rule will become stronger under the leadership of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi.

 

Zaw Nay Aung is director of London-based human rights advocacy and think tank, Burma Independence Advocates.
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Burma is underway of renewed military dictatorship... by Zaw Nay Aung on Tuesday, Jan 18, 2011 at 6:37:50 AM