Aung San Suu Kyi takes her seat in Myanmar’s parliament

After 50 years of military rule the shift to democracy has been a slow process

Leader of Myanmar's National League for Democracy, Aung San Suu, Kyi sits in parliament where the country's new lawmakers will choose the first democratically-elected government. Video: Reuters

 

Wearing flowers in her hair and looking poised and calm, Aung San Suu Kyi took her seat in the front row of Myanmar’s parliament after more than 50 years of struggle and opposition.

She is poised to lead the country’s first democratically elected government since the military junta took over in 1962, although it remains unclear how.

After decades of house arrest, opposition and personal hardship, the Nobel Peace laureate’s National League of Democracy (NLD) party won November’s election by a landslide and it now has the seats it needs to choose a government for Myanmar (formerly Burma).

It was a colourful moment in the vast parliament building in Naypyidaw, with the NLD lawmakers wearing orange in contrast to the light green worn by the military-backed ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), which is led by retired soldiers.

In the country’s biggest city Yangon (formerly Rangoon), people were emotional as they watched the leader known popularly as “The Lady” take her seat.

“This is a very big day for us. It is a very emotional day. Everybody likes her, you know. I don’t know anyone who doesn’t like her,” said one young man watching in a local hotel.

The shift to democracy in the Southeast Asian nation of 51.5 million people has been slow, and there are still many questions open as to what Ms Suu Kyi’s next move will be.

It is still unclear who exactly will lead the government, and what its priorities will be.

The reform process started in 2011, when the military leader Thein Sein started opening up the country.

The terms of the constitution written by the military government means she will have to share power with the junta and because her children are technically foreigners, she is not allowed become president.

Ms Suu Kyi has said she will be “above the president” and in complete control of the government, but details of how this will work in practice are not clear.

The NLD previously had a landslide win in 1990, but the junta annulled the poll and Ms Suu Kyi was kept under house arrest for 15 of the next 22 years.

She endured great personal hardship during the period, choosing not to leave the country even when her husband, the British academic Michael Aris, was dying and her courage made her an international icon for resistance, winning the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991.

As well as forming a new government, Ms Suu Kyi will also to resolve a number of ethnic rebellions around the country.

While the junta had signed peace deals with some groups, some of the biggest ethnic revolts are still raging, and she will need to find a way to bring peace to the war-torn ethnic states such as the Shan State in the east or Rakhine in the west, where the Rohingya Muslims face attacks by the Buddhist majority.

Ms Suu Kyi’s father Aung San, who achieved independence for Myanmar, was successful in bringing together various national groups and there are high hopes that she will also have success in this.

The process for appointing the president is complex and is likely to take place later this month.

Each of the parliament’s two chambers pick a presidential candidate and the military officials who hold a quarter of seats will also put forward their own nominee.

A combined session of the chambers then votes on the three candidates. The winner will become president, with the other two serving as vice presidents.