Ironically, one of the prime movers in this interparty cooperation has been Thura Shwe Mann, the speaker of the lower house and formerly the third-ranking official in the military regime.
Overlooked for the presidency in favor of Thein Sein, Thura Shwe Mann has encouraged MPs to shed party allegiances and focus instead on the national interest. He speaks regularly of the need for “reciprocal checks and balances”.
Many question his motives, suggesting that the acting USDP chairman is angling for a run at the presidency in the 2015 election. Nonetheless, his leadership of the lower house has made Thura Shwe Mann deeply popular among MPs.
“The one I like most is the speaker, Thura Shwe Mann. He encourages us a lot,” Khine Maung Yi said to me.
Despite the progress they have made, Burma’s MPs still face a number of challenges in carrying out their legislative duties. Foremost among them is limited access to resources. For example, the parliament complex has only recently been given an internet connection.
Further, many of the legislators have little experience in administrative or legal matters. This leaves a relatively small number to do the bulk of the work. Their relative inexperience has created problems when resolving national crises, such as the ethnic conflicts that have broken out in the states of Kachin and Rakhine.
Clouds on the Horizon
Burma’s political progress during the past two years is nothing short of miraculous, but there is no guarantee that it will continue.
As the 2015 election approaches, Thura Shwe Mann and other members of the USDP may decide to create more sharply drawn party lines. Given his powerful position as speaker of the lower house, this would not be particularly difficult for Thura Shwe Mann to do.
There is also a conflict brewing over the Constitutional Tribunal, which was impeached by the parliament in September 2012. The dispute stems from the tribunal’s March 2012 decision, which ruled that parliamentary committees, commissions and bodies do not possess the same status as government ministries. MPs argued that this limitation would limit their ability to act as a check on the government.
This ongoing saga took a new twist on January 14th, when the parliament approved amendments to the Constitutional Tribunal Law. These amendments muddy the waters about whether the tribunal’s decisions are final.