Myanmar opened its first parliament in more than two decades yesterday, an event greeted with cautious optimism by opposition lawmakers despite the military’s tight management of the event.
The military and its allies hold more than 80 percent of the seats in both houses of parliament, ensuring that the army exercises control over the wheels of power, as it has since a 1962 coup deposed the last legitimately elected legislature. A single-party parliament under the late dictator General Ne Win was abolished in 1988 after the army crushed a pro-democracy uprising.
The 440-seat lower house and 224-seat upper house were opened simultaneously at 8:55am in a massive new building in Naypyidaw, the remote city to which the capital was moved from Yangon in 2005. The 14 regional parliaments, whose members were also elected last November, opened at the same time.
In the afternoon, the two houses convened together and legislative officers were elected, according to Khin Shwe, a business tycoon and upper house representative of the junta-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP).
Thura Shwe Mann, who had been the junta’s third-ranking member and retired from the military to run for election with the USDP, was picked to be speaker of the lower house, and the junta’s Culture Minister Khin Aung Myint, was named speaker of the upper house, Khin Shwe said.
The election of a vice president was scheduled for today, while the timing for picking a president was not yet clear.
Roads leading to the parliament building were sealed off with roadblocks manned by armed police. Delegates wearing traditional attire — women in long-sleeved jackets — and representatives of ethnic minorities in the garb of their respective groups were bused from state guest houses to the site.
Reporters, diplomats and the public at large were barred from witnessing the proceedings inside.
Delegates are not allowed to carry cameras, cellphones, computers or tape recorders into the parliament compound.