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Aung San Suu Kyi ends boycott to make Myanmar parliamentary debut

Aung San Suu Kyi's boycott and subsequent compromise highlight the challenges facing the Burmese opposition as they make their long-awaited foray into the country's parliamentary politics.

By Correspondent / May 1, 2012

Myanmar pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi talks to reporters after meeting with United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon at her house in Yangon on Tuesday, May 1.

Minzayar/Reuters

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Bangkok, Thailand

Aung San Suu Kyi will take her seat in Myanmar's military-stuffed parliament on Wednesday, after reversing a brief boycott over the wording of an oath of fealty to the country's junta-era constitution.

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The former political prisoner was scheduled to join the Myanmar (Burma) parliament on April 23, after her National League for Democracy (NLD) Party won 43 out of 45 seats in April 1 by-elections. But Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi asked that the text of the oath be changed from a pledge to safeguard the constitution, which has many provisions her party disagrees with, to one that stipulates only "respect."

A standoff ensued over subsequent days, but it appears that the wildly-popular Aung San Suu Kyi yielded after sounding out other Burmese opposition figures and constituents. Speaking to reporters in Yangon on Monday, the recently-elected MP said "we are not giving up; we are just yielding to the aspirations of the people."

The event highlights the challenges facing the Burmese opposition as they make their long-awaited foray into the country's parliamentary politics – and into an institution still dominated by the same army that formally-ceded power after a November 2010 parliamentary election that in turn followed five decades of harsh military rule.

The NLD was famously denied office by the Myanmar Army after winning a landslide victory in 1990 elections, and memories of that injustice live on. “People agreed with her reversal,” said Myint Kyaw, editor of Yangon Press International, an online newspaper in Myanmar. “They recall what happened in 1990 when the NLD won the election, but then there was no progress,” he says.

Despite the party's success in trouncing the army-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) in the recent by-elections, the NLD holds only 6 percent of seats in Myanmar's parliament because only a fraction of parliamentary seats were up for a vote. Most of the rest are held by the USDP and the military.

“It will be very difficult to amend the constitution,” says Ko Mya Aye, a well-known former political prisoner who was freed in a January amnesty as part of the Myanmar government's recent loosening of long-standing political oppression. “The army has 25 percent of seats but any change [to the constitution] requires 75 percent of the parliament to vote for it,” he added, speaking by telephone from Yangon.

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