Are Burma’s Opposition MPs Too Quiet? Critics and Lawmakers Weigh In

By Htet Naing Zaw 15 July 2013

RANGOON — Lawmakers from the National League for Democracy (NLD) and other opposition parties are being questioned by the public about their performance in Parliament, with critics saying they have failed to raise enough debate over proposed legislation that could hurt the national interest.

Two moves by Parliament have raised particular concern. Among them was the Lower House’s decision this month to pass the Printing and Publishing Enterprise Bill, which press freedom watchdogs have decried for giving the government broad authority to revoke publication licenses. Opposition lawmakers have also come under criticism for largely failing to speak out when the ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) submitted a proposal late last month to delay the awarding of two telecoms licenses to foreign company or consortia. (The government ultimately overrode lawmakers and allowed the licenses to be awarded anyway).

Aung San Suu Kyi, who leads the NLD in Parliament, pledged during her by-election campaign last year to push for better rule of law in Burma and amendments to the controversial 2008 Constitution. But the democracy icon and Nobel laureate has failed to follow through on those promises, says Min Zin, who writes about Burma for Foreign Policy’s “Transitions” blog.

“No matter how much journalists objected to the Printing and Publishing Enterprise Bill, the opposition didn’t even rise to question it in Parliament,” said the Burmese journalist, who is currently a PhD candidate in political science at the University of California, Berkeley.

“It seems that politicians have compromised on their political aims,” he said. “Now is high time for the media and all civil society organizations to question both the government and opposition.”

NLD senior leader Win Tin declined to comment on the NLD’s performance in Parliament but said he was worried about losing the party’s opposition status due to collaboration—especially by Suu Kyi—with the USDP and the military in the national reconciliation process.

“If we only focus on national reconciliation, we will be drawn into a situation where we can proceed only if we are with either the USDP or the military,” said Win Tin, who co-founded the NLD with Suu Kyi. “The public will also see that the NLD is just with the military.”

“At the same time,” he added, “we still stand as the opposition because Aung San Suu Kyi has publicly announced her desire to become president. People will only understand us if we can show that we’re still an opposition party while we try for national reconciliation.”

NLD lawmaker Phyo Min Thein said it was unfair to criticize lawmakers based solely on their performance in debates over proposals and bills in Parliament. The Lower House lawmaker rejected allegations that NLD members remained silent over issues that could hurt the national interest due to political negotiations with the USDP.

Thein Nyunt, a lawmaker from the opposition New National Democracy Party (NNDP), said it was important for politicians to follow through on pledges from their election campaigns.

“I’m the only member of Parliament from my party, but I’m still trying my best to keep promises for democracy and human rights that I made to the public during the election,” said the Lower House lawmaker, who represents Rangoon’s Thingangkuun Township.