Burma's parliament is due to reopen today – almost certainly without the opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi and the 42 other members of her party who secured seats in the recent by-elections.
A senior member of Ms Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) confirmed last night that efforts had failed to resolve a dispute over what oath the newly-elected members of the assembly should take.
U Win Tin, a former political prisoner and a member of the party’s executive committee, told The Independent: “The Lady cannot attend. We have some problems with the oath. I don’t think that we can participate in the opening of the parliament.”
The NLD objects to the current oath that requires MPs to vow to “defend” or “safeguard” the constitution and wants the words changed to “respect” or “observe”. Mr Win Tin said one of the aims of the NLD once its members take up their seats is to try and amend the constitution – something that will require a 75 per cent majority – so it was inappropriate to swear an oath vowing to “defend” it. “We want to say we will observe the constitution. That should be enough,” he added.
One NLD member involved in the negotiations with the authorities, Nay Chi Win, added: “It’s absolutely impossible for us to go into parliament and swear by this wording, because our main objective entering these elections has been to eventually have the constitution changed.”
U Win Htein, a close colleague of Ms Suu Kyi who won the seat of Meiktila, said the authorities had “played games” before. “We are having to negotiate with are the same generals who have ruled this country with no parliament at all,” he said.
The dispute over the oath is the first discord sounded amid the euphoria that erupted earlier this month when Ms Suu Kyi and her party recorded a landslide victory in the by-elections. A number of commentators have suggested this is not a battle the party needs to fight and that it is more important the MPs take up their seats.
The NLD says there is a precedent for its call to change the oath; in October last year it succeeded in changing a similar clause in the Political Parties’ Registration Law that paved the way for the party to participate in this year’s by-elections. “They seemed to be able to do that easily enough, but then they needed our co-operation,” said Nay Chi Win.
Perhaps aware of the international attention to this week’s session of the parliament and the feelings of many NLD supporters both in and out of the country, senior NLD figures have chosen to term their action as a postponement of taking the oath rather than a boycott and suggest that a deal could yet be struck to allow Ms Suu Kyi to participate later in the week.
Asked about the possible disappointment of supporters who waited so long to see the Nobel Laureate and her colleagues take their seats in the parliament, Mr Win Tin said: “Sometimes you have to observe your principles.’