Suu Kyi Myanmar parliament debut in doubt over oath stalemate

YANGON (Reuters) - The party of Myanmar’s Aung San Suu Kyi will seek fresh ways to try to alter an oath to be taken by newly elected members of parliament, a party official said on Friday, making it unlikely the main opposition will make its parliamentary debut next week.

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The National League for Democracy (NLD) will send letters to upper and lower house speakers, the president and a constitutional tribunal asking for a swearing-in vow to “safeguard the constitution” be changed.

The NLD’s probable absence in Monday’s resumption of the lower house session will be a setback for reformers in Myanmar’s quasi-civilian government, who want to see pro-democracy champion Suu Kyi in parliament to further legitimize a new political system in place after five decades of military rule.

The NLD, which wants to change the constitution to make it more democratic, has lobbied to have the wording of the oath changed from “safeguard the constitution” to “respect the constitution”.

“We will try to sort this out so that the present situation will not become a political stalemate,” NLD spokesman Nyan Win said. “But is still not certain whether or not the NLD elected candidates will attend the parliament on April 23.”

Though seemingly trivial, the wording does not sit well with Suu Kyi, who has said she would push to amend the 2008 constitution to strip the military of its sizable political stake.

However, provisions are written into the charter to allow amendments, if backed by more than 75 percent of parliament.

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The standoff could drag on. Analysts and members of parliament say changing the oath could be complicated and face opposition from some legislators.

The dispute could also derail the new government’s reforms.

A protracted delay would also be a setback for Western governments, which want to see the opposition in the fledgling parliament to offset the dominance of the armed forces.

All legislative chambers are stacked with retired generals and serving soldiers hand-picked by the commander-in-chief.

The European Union, Australia, Canada and the United States are also keen to start lifting, or at least suspending, some sanctions on Myanmar to recognize reforms under the year-old government and pave the way for firms to invest in the resource-rich and strategically located country.

The standoff does not bode well for Myanmar’s parliament and may invoke memories of the NLD’s previous protests, walkouts and boycotts of political processes dictated by military juntas, including a 2010 general election and a stuttering National Convention that took 15 years to draw up a constitution.

Engagement with the NLD and the government was running relatively smoothly after the NLD agreed in November to President Thein Sein’s offer to amend the constitution to re-instate the party following its forced dissolution.

That allowed the NLD to run in parliamentary by-elections on April 1, which it swept in a landslide, taking 43 of 45 vacant legislative seats, with Suu Kyi among the winners.

Writing by Martin Petty; Editing by Robert Birsel