Aung San Suu Kyi’s opposition party refused to take its new seats in the Myanmar parliament yesterday because of a dispute over one word in the lawmakers’ oath, but party officials said the issue would be overcome soon and the Southeast Asian nation’s president also said a revision was possible.
The National League for Democracy (NLD) objects to phrasing in the oath that says lawmakers must “safeguard the constitution,” a document the party has vowed to amend because it gives inordinate power to the military and was drafted during an era of junta rule. The lawmakers want the word “safeguard” replaced by “respect.”
If not dealt with soon, the issue could potentially derail a fragile detente between the military-backed ruling party and Aung San Suu Kyi’s opposition movement. Analysts say Burmese President Thein Sein needs the opposition in parliament to show the world that his administration is serious about change in the country, which was ruled by the military for nearly half a century.
Speaking on a state visit to Tokyo, Thein Sein told reporters he was open to discuss changes to the oath.
“It is possible to make a revision if it serves the public’s interest,” he said.
Thein Sein added that Aung San Suu Kyi was welcome in parliament, but “she is the one who should decide whether to join.”
Since last year, Thein Sein’s government has overseen a wave of widely praised political reforms, including the April 1 by-elections that earned Nobel Peace laureate Aung San Suu Kyi a parliamentary seat after years of repression and house arrest.
Aung San Suu Kyi and 42 other elected lawmakers from her party were absent as the latest assembly session got under way in the capital, Naypyitaw, yesterday. The NLD had said it would not join until the oath issue was resolved.
Opposition spokesman Nyan Win said he believed the dispute would be resolved within 10 days and other party officials have said there is support within the government to change the oath.
The party was “not disappointed” with its current inability to sit in the assembly, Nyan Win said.
“We are cooperating with the government, so the problem will be overcome,” he said.
Also yesterday, the EU suspended its sanctions against Myanmar for a year, but it will retain an embargo on arms sales, officials said.
The EU wants to support the progress made in the country “so it becomes irreversible,” EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Catherine Ashton said.
The measure was adopted by the bloc’s foreign ministers at a meeting in Luxembourg, spokeswoman Maja Kocijancic said. Sanctions currently target more than 800 companies and nearly 500 people, and include the withholding of some development aid.