Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi said Thursday that her party members’ refusals to take their seats in parliament to protest the wording of the 2008 constitution were based on nothing more than a “technical” obstacle.
“In regard to the obstacles in the way of taking our places in the National Assembly, we would like to think that these are purely technical ones,” she told reporters at her residence in Yangon. “We would not like to expand them to the point they become a political issue … and we would still seek to work in collaboration with the government, particularly because we believe that (President) U Thein Sein is sincere in his reform efforts and that he would truly like to see Burma a progressive, prosperous nation.”
Suu Kyi cited “inconsistencies” in the wording of the constitution and in election law and party regulations. “This is why this is a technical matter,” she said. “There have to be consistencies when it comes to law.”
She predicted that the nation will face difficulties, but said, “We’ll just have to get over them.”
Suu Kyi’s comments came three days after she and other members of her party delayed their parliamentary debuts in an attempt to change the oath that lawmakers must take.
Her party, the National League for Democracy, asked the authorities to adjust the wording of the oath to say that parliamentarians will “abide by” the constitution rather than “protect” it.
“We want to change that constitution because it’s not a democratic constitution,” Ohn Kyaing, a spokesman for the party, said Sunday.
The constitution assigns 25% of parliamentary seats to unelected members of the military establishment.
On Monday, the European Union suspended most of the sanctions it had imposed on the country, citing the “transparent and credible” election that brought Suu Kyi to office and other reforms.
Suu Kyi and 42 other candidates from her party, the National League for Democracy, won seats in by-elections on April 1, a result welcomed by the United States and Britain as a sign of progress toward democracy in Myanmar after decades of repressive military rule.
After the elections, Suu Kyi and other newly elected opposition members were invited to attend the session of parliament this week in the capital, Naypidaw.
But they demurred, requesting instead that the wording of the lawmakers’ oath be changed first.
The tension over the oath marks the first public sign of conflict between the opposition and the reformist government of President Thein Sein since the by-elections.
Tin Oo, a senior party official, said that Thein Sein had agreed before the elections to amend the oath.
“Whether Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi enters parliament or not is her decision,” the president said Monday. “She has to decide it. The parliament is all in favor of her entrance and very welcoming of her.”
The decision by the European Union to suspend most of its sanctions against Myanmar came Monday at the foreign ministers’ meeting in Luxembourg. Only a ban on arms exports continues, according to the EU.
EU sanctions against Myanmar, first imposed in 1996, have included limits on diplomatic contacts and non-humanitarian aid and development programs, a freeze on the offshore accounts of Myanmar officials and visa restrictions.
Still, an expert stressed it will take time for the easing of sanctions to affect the people of Myanmar, about a third of whom were living in poverty in 2007, according to the CIA World Factbook.
“On the day-to-day basis, nothing will change for the average person on the streets,” said Tony Picon, associate director at Colliers International, a real estate company. “These things take time.”
Myanmar’s authoritarian military rulers have begun loosening their grip on power after decades during which dissent was stifled and freedoms severely limited.
In the past 12 months, the government has pardoned hundreds of political prisoners, secured a ceasefire with Karen rebels and agreed to negotiate with other ethnic rebel groups.
Myanmar’s leaders have come a long way, but more work must be done, the EU said Monday in a statement. “The foundation for development is legitimate government, the rule of law and national reconciliation,” the statement said. “The EU praises the peaceful nature of the process and the readiness of the parties to work towards the same goals, with a shared vision for political, social and economic reforms.”
Western governments have applauded this month’s by-elections and the other recent reforms by Thein Sein’s government. The U.S. and Australian governments eased some sanctions on Myanmar last week.
While control of parliament will not change, despite the opposition’s strong performance, the result nonetheless gives the National League for Democracy a notable presence.
Myanmar’s legislature has 664 seats, more than 80% of which are still held by lawmakers aligned with the military-backed ruling party, the Union Solidarity and Development Party.
Suu Kyi led her party to a landslide victory in 1990, when Myanmar last held multiparty elections. But the junta ignored the results and kept her under house arrest.
After her release in November 2010, Suu Kyi was allowed to travel the country to rally support for her party in the elections.