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Burmese Opposition Considers Parliament Boycott

Top National League for Democracy (NLD) official Nyan Win talks to reporters after a meeting at the party's head office in Rangoon, April 20, 2012.

Burma’s main opposition party says it is considering boycotting the start of next week’s parliament session because of its objection to the wording of the constitutional oath of office.

The newly-elected members of parliament are expected to be sworn in on April 23, marking a key moment in the country’s ongoing political reforms.

But National League for Democracy party secretary Nyan Win told reporters Friday he is still not sure if the party’s 43 newly-elected parliamentarians, including its leader Aung San Suu Kyi, would agree to take their oaths in parliament on time, or whether they would be barred from the entire session.

Nyan Win traveled to Naypyitaw on Thursday to submit a request that the oath be amended.

The following day he informed reporters at a news conference that officials said his request was deemed unnecessary.

He says the constitutional court patiently explained its position that many countries use this word “uphold” in their oath. He says he did not argue with the court and they are trying to resolve the issue.

Proposed amendment

Aung San Suu Kyi pledged during her campaign to amend the constitution.

Suzanne DiMaggio of the Asia Society, who has recently traveled to Burma, says the oath could thwart those plans. She says this standoff over entering parliament could be the first real test of the government's sincerity to reform.

"The government in Burma has a big stake in making sure that the elections and those who gained a rightful seat in the parliament are able to gain seats, so maybe we'll see a compromise on this at least I hope so," said DiMaggio.


Although some western governments have announced plans to lift sanctions, the Burmese government is still under international pressure to treat the political opposition with fairness.

Maung Wuntha, a former NLD member who was elected in 1990 but never sat in parliament, is now a political analyst, and the editor of the Rangoon-based journal The People's Age. He says the NLD should join the parliament, because it was the ultimate goal of the election and a key part of the democratic process.

"They should think of the voters. Very recently the voters supported the NLD all out, and their intention is they want the NLD to enter the parliament," Wuntha said.

If the NLD does not take the oath during the parliament’s opening session on Monday, they may be forced to sit-out the entire session which could last several months.