A Historic Day in Burma

The country swore in hundreds of lawmakers Monday in its first freely elected parliament.

Members of the National League for Democracy arrive for the opening of the new parliament in Nay Pyi Taw on February 1, 2016.  (Soe Zeya Tun / Reuters)
After more than 50 years of military rule, Burma has sworn in hundreds of lawmakers in the country’s first democratically elected parliament.
The inaugural session on Monday in Nay Pyi Taw, the capital, came three months after the National League for Democracy (NLD), the party of Nobel Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, won 80 percent of contested seats in the two-house parliament, defeating the junta-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party. The country, also known as Myanmar, has been under army control since 1962.

Old and new lawmakers marked the transition with dance, karaoke, and jokes in the parliament chambers Friday, reported EFE, the Spanish news agency.

NLD members, including Suu Kyi, had been imprisoned for years by the ruling junta. The party previously won elections in 1990, but the military government voided the results and placed Suu Kyi under house arrest for 15 years.
“I never imagined that our party would be able to form the government,” Khin Maung Myint, an NLD member, told the Associated Press Monday. “Even the public didn’t think we could have an NLD government. But now it is like a shock to us and to the world, too.”
A quarter of the 664-seat parliament remains reserved for military. Members of smaller, non-military parties were also sworn in Monday.
One of the first orders of business for the new parliament will be to choose a new president when Thein Sein, a general who was handpicked by the junta in 2011 but considered a reformist, steps down at the end of March. The majority party has not yet named a candidate. Under Burmese law, Suu Kyi cannot take the job herself; the constitution, drafted by the military government, includes a provision that bars individuals with foreign children—like Suu Kyi, whose sons were born in Britain and hold British citizenship—from the post. In the days before the election last fall, Suu Kyi dismissed the provision as a technicality and said she would be “above the president.”
“I’ll make all the decisions, it’s as simple as all that,” she told the BBC.
In an interview with BBC a month after her party won the election, Suu Kyi said the people of Burma were now “far more politicized” than in previous years. She said the existence of the Internet played a significant role in keeping the election fairly free and fair.

“Everybody gets onto the ’net and informs everybody else of what is happening,” she said. “It’s much more difficult for those who wish to engage in irregularities to get away with it.

Still, Suu Kyi, the NLD, and the country face major challenges, not least among them high expectations from a population that has been repressed for years, as well as unrest in parts of the country, and ethnic divisions that pit Burma’s Buddhist majority against, among others, the Muslim minority Rohingya.