Ex-junta prisoner, Suu Kyi takes office in Myanmar

Associated Press Published: May 2, 2012
Advertisement
;

NAYPYITAW, Myanmar (AP) — Aung San Suu Kyi capped a tenacious, decades-long journey from political prisoner to office holder in long-repressed Myanmar as the country's main opposition party moved its struggle for democratic rule inside government for the first time.

The swearing-in ceremony of Suu Kyi and fellow new parliamentarians Wednesday cements a fragile detente between Suu Kyi's movement and the administration of President Thein Sein, which has engineered sweeping reforms since taking power from a military junta last year.

But some analysts see her entry into the legislative branch as a gamble that will achieve little beyond legitimizing a regime that needs her support to end years of isolation from the West and get lingering sanctions lifted.

After the ceremony in the capital, Naypyitaw, Suu Kyi said she would not give up the struggle for democracy she has led since 1988.

"We would like our parliament to be in line with genuine democratic values. It's not because we want to remove anybody," she said in apparent reference to the military, whose unelected appointees control 25 percent of the assembly. "We just want to make the kind of improvements that will make our national assembly a truly democratic one."

That will not be easy. Suu Kyi will have almost no power in the ruling-party dominated parliament since her party will occupy only the few dozen seats it won in an April 1 by-election. But she will have an official voice in government for the first time, and the chance — however faint — to challenge and influence public policy from within.

Her National League for Democracy party's legislative debut comes 22 years after it was prevented from taking power after a landslide electoral victory in 1990. Suu Kyi was under house arrest, and the army annulled the vote result, keeping power until last year.

When the parliamentary session began last week, the NLD initially refused to join because of a dispute over the oath of office, sparking a political crisis that irked supporters eager for the party to finally enter the assembly.

The party wanted wording in the oath changed from "safeguard" to "respect" the constitution, which they have vowed to amend because it enshrines military power.

Suu Kyi backed down Monday, but the party's failure to push through even that small change underscores the immense challenges ahead in a nation still dominated by the military.

On Wednesday, Suu Kyi and several dozen of her NLD brethren recited the oath, despite their strong opposition to it.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton called the occasion "an important moment" for Myanmar's future and praised Thein Sein's administration for taking "strides toward democracy and national reconciliation."

"I encourage all political parties, civil society representatives and ethnic minority leaders to work together to address challenges and seize new opportunities for a more democratic, free, peaceful, and prosperous future," Clinton said.

Thein Sein's government has been widely praised for instituting reforms, including releasing hundreds of political prisoners, signing cease-fires with rebels, easing media censorship and holding the April 1 by-election that allowed Suu Kyi's party to enter parliament.

Continue reading this story on the...