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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.

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But Myanmar's government, headed by former general Thein Sein, has loosened in recent months and pledges more reforms – such as a revised print media code – during the current parliament sitting, which Aung San Suu Kyi will join on Wednesday, after meeting visiting United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon earlier today. He praised Aung San Suu Kyi for supporting democratization by making a political compromise.

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Mr. Ban also urged Western countries to remove remaining economic sanctions on Myanmar, in response to recent reforms.

The EU has suspended sanctions for one year, while the US has relaxed some measures, a move that does not go far enough, according to American business lobbies looking at Myanmar as an investment destination. "Failure by the United States to take similar steps (to the EU) will do more than put American companies at a commercial disadvantage vis-a-vis their competitors," said the US-ASEAN Business Council in a recent statement.

Despite reforms, the Myanmar constitution gives the military the final say on several issues of national importance, argues the NLD. It was voted into law in a rigged referendum held just days after the May 2008 Cyclone Nargis, which killed perhaps 300,000 people, and was held while the ruling junta stalled on aid for 3 million people made homeless by the disaster.
 Army leaders and USDP lawmakers say that the constitution is untouchable, suggesting that they may dig their heels in, despite Aung San Suu Kyi's apparent determination on the issue.

Khin Ohmar, a Burmese exile who heads the Thailand-based Burma Partnership, suggests that more widespread public support for constitutional change could be necessary if the NLD is to have any success prior to the next nationwide elections scheduled for 2015.

“It [changing the constitution] is possible only if outside parliament civil society movement is mobilized,” she says.

To be sure, even if the NLD wins the 2015 election, constitutional change could prove difficult.

Long-time Burmese journalist Thiha Saw summed up the challenge by saying that not only will some of the 25 percent bloc of army MPs need to vote in favor of constitutional change, but reminded that current laws also stipulate that at first 20 percent of  all MPs need to back a motion to vote on the constitution. Changing the constitution “is not impossible,” he says, “but it is tall order."

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