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NEWS UPDATES Asean Affairs   25 April  2012

Suu Kyi boycotts parliament meeting

Myanmar's parliament reopened with Aung San Suu Kyi refusing to take a seat on Monday, while the nation's president vowed "no U-turn" on reforms as the EU prepares to suspend sanctions.

Suu Kyi's party has refused to swear to "safeguard" an army-created constitution in the first sign of tension with the government since a landmark by-election this month saw the democracy icon win a parliamentary seat.

The spat comes as European Union nations are preparing to suspend most sanctions against the impoverished nation for one year to reward a series of dramatic reforms since direct army rule ended last year.

Myanmar, long-isolated under military dictatorship, has seen a rapid improvement in relations with the international community after the Nobel Peace Prize winner and her party achieved a decisive win in the April 1 polls.

Suu Kyi has shown increased confidence in the reformist government of President Thein Sein in recent weeks, calling for the EU sanctions suspension and planning her first international trip in 24 years.

Thein Sein, who is currently on a visit to Japan, on Monday vowed that he would not backtrack on the country's democratisation.
"There won't be any U-turn," Thein Sein said, according to the Mainichi Shimbun.

But he rejected the suggestion that he would alter Myanmar's parliamentary oath to accommodate Suu Kyi, telling reporters that it was up to her whether or not she took the seat.

Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy (NLD) -- the main opposition force after securing 43 of the 44 seats it contested in the by-elections -- has appealed to the president directly over the stalemate, asking that the wording of the oath be changed from "safeguard" to "respect" the constitution.
"I don't know the circumstances of the president's remarks," NLD spokesman Nyan Win told AFP in response to reports of Thein Sein's comments. "We haven't got any formal reply yet."

Suu Kyi has said one of her priorities as a politician is to push for an amendment of the 2008 constitution, under which one quarter of the seats in parliament are reserved for unelected military officials.

The NLD, which boycotted a controversial 2010 election, agreed to rejoin the political mainstream last year after authorities changed a similar phrase in party registration laws.

MPs from other parties took the oath on Monday in an early sitting of the Upper House, where four seats were left vacant by the NLD. The Lower House, where Suu Kyi was due to take her seat, is set to convene later in the day.

It has been suggested that a parliamentary motion could provide a solution to the deadlock.

"The motion should be submitted if we want to change the wording. I also think the wording should be changed," said Sai Hsaung Hsi, of the Shan Nationalities Development Party.

Myanmar's new regime has freed hundreds of political prisoners and signed tentative peace deals with a number of rebel groups as part of its reform programme, although fighting continues in the far north.

The international community has begun easing sanctions as it looks to balance fears over the sustainability of the changes and a desire to bolster regime reformers who may face pressure from those wary of change.

In an about-face following the by-election this month, British Prime Minister David Cameron and Suu Kyi urged a suspension of the EU measures after a landmark meeting in Rangoon.

EU foreign ministers meeting in Luxembourg are set to approve the suspension of sanctions against almost 500 individuals and more than 800 firms in a move that could open up the resource-rich Southeast Asian nation to European firms.

The bloc also has an asset freeze and travel ban against nearly 500 individuals, but it lifted visa bans on 87 top Myanmar officials, including President Thein Sein in February.

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It is commonplace in journalism to write two types of articles at the transition point between the year that has passed and the New Year. As this writer qualifies as an “old hand” in observing Thailand with a track record dating back 14 years, it is time take a shot at what may unfold in Thailand in 2011.

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