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Burmese parliament spells out its new 'democracy' reforms

Beneath the tiered roofs of Burma's ornate new parliament building in its remote capital, Naypyidaw, lawmakers will gather today for their first taste of "disciplined democracy" as prescribed by the country's military rulers.

Burma's first parliamentary session in 22 years follows a general election in November which the junta's proxy, the Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), won by a landslide thanks to rampant vote-rigging and intimidation. The party of the democracy campaigner Aung San Suu Kyi boycotted the vote and smaller opposition groups secured just a fraction of seats.

Amid pomp and ritual, the convening of the two-chamber parliament, with its 659 legislators, this morning will mark the penultimate step in the dictator General Than Shwe's seven-point plan for "disciplined democracy", to appease Asian trading neighbours and their appeals for democratic reform.

Those who hoped that this flawed process could at least nurture the beginnings of a political debate after half a century of military oppression in Burma will be disappointed.

For example, MPs cannot simply stand up and ask a question, they must submit it in writing to the leader of the house, 10 days in advance.

Then, like every newspaper article, broadcast, book or song, it will be examined to ensure that it does not undermine the national cause, before being accepted or rejected. It is thought that Than Shwe is likely to be elected President.