Myanmar opposition postpones parliamentary debut over oath wording

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NEW DELHI -- The major opposition party in Myanmar headed by pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi said Sunday it will postpone its parliamentary debut because of an impasse over the wording of the oath of office, an early sign of tension with the government.

Members of the newly emboldened opposition had been scheduled to take their seats Monday.

The oath requires lawmakers to protect the constitution, written by the country’s former junta. Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy party objects to the charter on the grounds that it fails to safeguard many rights and reserves one-quarter of parliamentary seats for unelected military officials.

"We are not boycotting, but we are just waiting for the right time to go," said Suu Kyi, after a meeting on the issue in Yangon, according to the AFP news service. The Nobel Prize winner won her first seat in parliament in April 1 elections in which her party swept 43 of the 45 seats being contested.

The government, which is dominated by former military officials, has so far rejected the party’s request to change the oath’s wording from “safeguard” to “respect” the constitution.  The opposition party has petitioned Myanmar’s constitutional court and Suu Kyi has written to Thein Sein, Myanmar's president, asking that it be altered.

The National League for Democracy, which boycotted the 2010 election on the grounds that it was illegitimate, switched gears last year and decided to contest elections in a bid to influence policy from within. Suu Kyi has said that one of her priorities as an elected official will be to amend the 2008 constitution.

The wording difference is a wrinkle in otherwise steadily improving relations between Suu Kyi’s party and the long-isolated government. In recent weeks, she has called on the European Union to suspend economic sanctions, although some ethnic minorities say it is too early to do that. And she has planned her first international trip in 24 years, something she refused to do in the past, fearful the former military regime wouldn’t  let her back into the country.  

In another sign of Myanmar’s early, gradual reintegration into the international community, Japan on Saturday agreed to forgive $3.7 billion in debt and resume development aid as a way to support the country’s democratic and economic reforms.

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-- Mark Magnier

Photo: Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, center, arrives at the National League for Democracy headquarters to attend the final day of a party meeting in Yangon on Sunday. Credit: Ye Aung Thu / AFP/Getty Images

 
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