Parliamentarian Challenges House Speaker To Debate

By Moe Myint 21 December 2016

RANGOON –Arakanese lawmaker U Oo Hla Saw has challenged Upper House Speaker Mahn Win Khaing Than to a debate after the speaker warned him that his comments to a local newspaper could harm the Union Parliament’s image.

Local print publication The Voice Daily published a story last week about Mahn Win Khaing Than’s rejection of an urgent proposal by ethnic Ta’ang National Party MP Mai Win Htoo urging State Counselor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi to begin peace talks with the ethnic armed group coalition known as the Northern Alliance. Parliamentary leadership reportedly said that the State Counselor was already attempting to bring all ethnic armed groups to the table.

MP U OoHla Saw commented in the article that the move had essentially “blocked the speaking of ethnic parties’MPs in the Parliament” and described the rejection as “unfair.”

On Dec. 20, House Speaker Mahn Win Khaing Than explained during the legislative session that his decision on the proposal was in line with parliamentary provisions and issued a warning to lawmakers Mai Win Htoo and U Oo Hla Saw. He suggested that U Oo Hla Saw’s corroboration in this case was “reckless,” since he was not particularly informed of the issue at hand, which involves armed conflict in northern Shan State. U Oo Hla Saw stood in Parliament to respond to the House Speaker, but he did not allow him to take the floor.

“I wasn’t born yesterday. The wordshe used are the favored slang of streetboys, not Hluttaw terms. […]He should not have told me that I know nothing,” said U Oo Hla Saw of Mahn Win Khaing Than, adding that the House Speaker lacked an understanding of media work and that it was an MP’s right to speak to the press.

The lawmaker then challenged the House Speaker to prove his own knowledge of peace-related issues in a debate open to the media.

Speaker Mahn Win Khaing Than could not be reached for comment at the time of publishing.

The incident involving U Oo Hla Saw is not the first time that a House Speaker has publicly reprimanded a lawmaker. On Tuesday, Lower House Speaker U Win Myint scolded a National League for Democracy (NLD) parliamentarian for being caught on TV reading a magazine while attending a legislative session.

A veteran Naypyidaw-based reporter who spoke to The Irrawaddy on the condition of anonymity on Wednesday speculated that friction between the lawmakers and the House Speaker has increased under the NLD-led government.

He suggested that Mahn Win KhaingThan privately speak to offending MPs after parliamentary sessions, rather than in public.

But NLD lawmaker U Aung Win of Hmawbi Constituency, said that while the House Speaker can be discrete, he had likely embraced public warnings in this case in order to make an example of the individuals in question.

He attributed the current tension to misunder standings between MPs and parliamentary leadership, recommending that parliamentarians exercise caution when giving full statements to the media, in order to avoid misinterpretations.