Monday, April 23, 2012

Confusion surrounds oath of office

Monday, 23 April 2012 19:51 Myo Thant

(Mizzima) – Burma’s President Thein Sein said on Monday he had no plans to change the Burmese parliamentary oath of office, according to several widely distributed press reports by Japanese news media on Monday.

However, Ko Ko, the chairman of the Yangon Media Group, who attended the press conference held in Tokyo, told Mizzima those reports were not accurate, and the president did not say the oath could not be changed.

Aung Thein, a lawyer involved in the issue, told Mizzima that the Thein Sein might have the right to use his power to change the oath clause which triggered the NLD dispute and boycott of the opening parliamentary session.

Japanese Emperor Akihiko, third from left, with Burma's President Thein Sein, left, and Thailand's Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, right, after a tea party for leaders of the Mekong nations at the Imperial Palace in Tokyo on Friday, April 20, 2011. Photo: AFP

“It’s not about trying to amend the Constitution. It’s just trying to amend [change the word “safeguard”] with the word “respect.” So, I think that the clause can be amended if the president conducts the negotiations,” Aung Thein said.

“Aung San Suu Kyi has not attended the Parliament [opening session] through her own decision. Anyway, the parliament welcomes her,” Thein Sein said in an audio file received by Mizzima.

The failure to find a compromise to the oath dispute provoked a parliamentary boycott by newly elected members of The National League for Democracy (NLD) on Monday.

In the Tokyo press conference, Thein Sein said he would like to “welcome” the Nobel Peace laureate to Parliament, but that it was up to her whether or not she took the seat she won earlier this month.

The president, who is on a five-day visit to Japan that ends on Tuesday, said democratic reforms in Burma would continue and not be reversed.

“There won’t be any U-turn,” Thein Sein said, according to Agence France Presse.

“We would like to cooperate [with Aung San Suu Kyi] by heading in the same direction, in the interest of the people,” the Mainichi newspaper quoted Thein Sein saying.

Thein Sein also left the door open for Suu Kyi to enter government as a minister, but said she had to decide where her priorities lay.

Noting that the Constitution does not allow lawmakers to become members of the cabinet, he said: “Suu Kyi has to make her own decision.”

“Suu Kyi should work for the people, rather than her own party,” he said, according to Japanese press reports.

In refusing to attend the first session of the reconvened Parliament, the NLD party said it opposes the wording of the Parliamentary oath that requires new lawmakers to “protect” the Constitution, rather than “respect” it. The NLD has said it will work to change sections of the Consitution that are undemocratic, such as the appointment of unelected military representatives to Parliament.

NLD spokesmen were still expressing optimistic predictions about the dispute’s outcome.

NLD spokesman Han Tha Myint told Bloomberg Businessweek on Monday, “We can reach some sort of solution to this. The democratization process will go on. We wish to fulfill the wishes of voters, who want us to be inside the Parliament.”

The NLD’s role in Parliament is seen as an essential marker on the march toward democracy in Burma. The party’s election win this month has prompted the U.S. and European Union to reassess sanctions against the country as a reward for Thein Sein’s shift to democracy. On Monday, the E.U. suspended sanctions for one year, saying they could be put back in place if the government goes back on its promises.

The NLD won 43 of 45 by-election open seats on April 1. Government spokesmen said they were stunned by the scope of the NLD win.

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