NAYPYIDAW — Burma was brimming with anticipation as its legislative hue changed suddenly from green to red on Monday. After decades of effort, the National League for Democracy (NLD) assumed a majority of the Union Parliament, leaving hopes at an all-time high for swift and genuine democratic reform in a country that has long been ruled by its military.
Following a landslide win in the Nov. 8 general election, the party chaired by Aung San Suu Kyi entered the Parliamentary building in Naypyidaw on Monday—donning iconic pinni jackets and longyi—with reflective enthusiasm; the party had a similar win in 1990, but the then-ruling junta annulled the results and it remained a latent political force for a quarter century.
The party boycotted a 2010 election that was broadly viewed as fraudulent. The poll nonetheless marked the start of the country’s transition from military dictatorship to a quasi-civilian government. The NLD later acquiesced to a 2012 by-election, landing it 43 seats in the national Parliament, which was dominated by the military-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP).
“Today is an honorable day in Myanmar’s Parliament, and in our country’s history, for our democratic transition,” said Win Myint, the newly appointed Speaker of the Lower House, at Monday’s premier session. The Speaker and his deputy, ethnic Kachin USDP member T Khun Myat, were sworn in at the start of the assembly.
The inside of Parliament looks new in many ways; not only is it entirely new in its make-up, but it is also novel to many of its members. A number of NLD lawmakers are brand new to politics, and have received specialized training in the months since their win.
Bidhayak Das, Burma country representative of the Asian Network for Free Elections (ANFREL), said the parliamentary procedures—while short—were promising.
“I feel [new lawmakers] are learning very fast,” he said. “This is encouraging.”
British Ambassador to Burma Andrew Patrick expressed similar optimism, noting that while the military still enjoys a 25 percent bloc of the Parliament, “it is wonderful to see the move” toward more democratically elected leadership.
“We wanted to be here because this is very historical,” he said, vowing continued support for the Burmese government through the many challenges ahead. But overall, he said, “there’s a lot of color, there are more women here; I suspect we will see more change in the future.”
The Upper House will meet for the first time on Wednesday, and the Lower House will reconvene on Thursday.