He added, “I’ve been in prison for nearly eighteen and a half years with the political case but now we are in the parliament with them. [It is] very funny. I didn’t imagine I would be here in the parliament. … My life has changed, but I have no resentment towards them for that time. Now we want to [ensure] democratic stability, genuine democracy. We want to cooperate with the other parties, including military members, for the betterment of the people.”
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One of the most striking features of Burma’s post-military rule parliament has been its lack of party allegiance. On countless occasions over the past two years, parties have split when voting on proposals and bills – even during the tightly controlled first session.
Despite ostensibly coming from the same party, USDP legislators regularly ignore recommendations from government ministers, and even the president. In February 2012, President Thein Sein returned a parliament-approved draft of the Ward and Village-Tract Administration Law, and recommended that the selection process for local administrators be changed from being determined by secret ballot to “negotiated selection”. Representatives narrowly voted against the proposal, 278 to 236.
Splits have also occurred along more easily discernible lines, such as the vote in September 2012 on the proposal to impeach the Constitutional Tribunal. All Tatmadaw representatives voted against the proposal, while elected MPs gave it unanimous support.
However, in a subsequent vote in the lower house to amend the Constitutional Tribunal Law, two civilian parliamentarians – Dr. Sai Kyaw Ohn and U Ye Tun, both from the Shan Nationalities Democratic Party – opposed the bill with the Tatmadaw.
MPs attribute this development to a range of factors, including the composition of parliamentary committees. In each of Burma’s 15 parliamentary committees, there are 15 members. On average, about one-third of the members are from non-USDP parties.
The upshot of this committee composition is that representatives are forced to regularly mix with their counterparts from other parties in more intimate settings than the parliamentary chamber.
“Now there are so many committees and we are all cooperating. We are basically party-less in terms of how we think and operate,” Khine Maung Yi of the National Democratic Force told me at an upscale café in Yangon during a break between parliament sessions.