Aung San Suu Kyi makes history by taking Myanmar parliament seat

Opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi took her seat in Myanmar's parliament Tuesday, a historic step of greater symbolic significance than immediate political impact
This post has been corrected. See below for details.

NEW DELHI -- Opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi took her seat in Myanmar's parliament Wednesday, a historic step of greater symbolic significance than immediate political impact.

Alongside other members of her National League for Democracy party, the Nobel Peace Prize winner, who has spent much of the last two decades in detention, pledged before the speaker of the house to uphold the constitution. The dramatic moment came after a weeklong boycott over the oath's wording. 

The main opposition party in Myanmar, also known as Burma, initially balked at pledging to "respect" a constitution it has vowed to try to amend. The party is concerned that the document guarantees one-quarter of all seats in parliament to the military and fails to safeguard other rights. Ultimately, however, Suu Kyi and her colleagues decided they could do more by joining as lawmakers than maintaining their boycott on principle.

"I have always been cautiously optimistic about developments," she told reporters. "In politics, you also have to be cautiously optimistic."

Suu Kyi and her party remain a distinct minority in the 664-seat legislature, although supporters hope their presence will lead to more pointed debate and a larger opposition voice in the 2015 election.

Although her new position gives Suu Kyi an official voice, analysts said, it could lead to disappointment among voters if she is unable to deliver on her reform agenda, including an overhaul of the military-crafted constitution. She also risks being viewed as part of a political system that's overseen high unemployment, poor healthcare and a weak education system, rather than the committed voice of reform she's been for decades from the outside.

Parliament was scheduled to wrap up its session Monday, but it extended the term to allow Suu Kyi and her fellow party members to take their seats.

Supporters hope her presence in the legislature will spur further reforms by President Thein Sein and his government, which in recent months has freed hundreds of political prisoners, signed cease-fire agreements with ethnic minorities, liberalized the media and legalized trade unions. 

[For the Record, 10:22 a.m. May 2: An earlier version of this post said Aung San Suu Kyi took her seat in parliament Tuesday. She took her seat on Wednesday.]

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-- Mark Magnier

Photo: Myanmar democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi is sworn in at Myanmar's lower house of parliament Wednesday. Credit: Nyein Chan Naing / EPA

 
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