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Burma’s Rubber Stamp Parliament Can’t Hold Government To Account

By Burma Campaign UK  •  January 31, 2011

As Burma’s new Parliament convenes for the first time, Burma Campaign UK today called on the international community not to be fooled by cosmetic changes by Burma’s dictatorship.

“This Parliament is packed with soldiers, ex-soldiers, pro-regime parties, corrupt businessmen and stooges,” said Zoya Phan, Campaigns Manager at Burma Campaign UK. “The tiny number of genuine pro-democracy MPs are massively outnumbered, but even if they were in the majority, they still couldn’t bring human rights and democracy to Burma, as the Parliament doesn’t have real power, the military does.”

The first task of the new Parliament is to choose a President and Vice-Presidents. The Parliament is dominated by the military and will choose the candidates the military want. The new President then forms a government. Neither the President, nor new government ministers, will be accountable to the Parliament.

  • There will be a Presidential, not Parliamentary form of government.
  • The President must come from the military, either a former or serving soldier.
  • The President is not accountable to Parliament.
  • Government ministers are not accountable to Parliament.
  • Real democratic reforms require constitutional reform, which is impossible without the military agreeing to it.

Real power will lie not with Parliament and MPs, but rather with the President, Commander-in-Chief of the Defense Services, and a new National Defense and Security Council (NDSC). Eight of the eleven positions will be either serving or former military men, or chosen by the military. Two more will be chosen by a Parliament controlled by the military, and the final position chosen by a serving or former soldier.

  • The Military is not accountable to the President or the Parliament. It sets its own budget, and runs its own affairs independently.
  • The Military decides who the Home Affairs Minister, Defense Minister, and Border Affairs Ministers are.
  • The Military can take military action against civilians in Burma without approval of Parliament or the President. Current military attacks against ethnic civilians in Burma are so serious the United Nations Burma human rights expert has called for a UN inquiry into possible war crimes and crimes against humanity.
  • The Military has ensured it has multiple options for blocking any attempt by Parliament to introduce democratic reforms.
  • Rigged elections with severe restrictions on political activities ensure pro-military parties have a majority in Parliament.
  • 25% percent of seats in Parliament are reserved for the military, ensuring the required vote of over 75% of MPs for constitutional change is impossible without military consent.
  • Even if all elected MPs and some soldiers did vote to change the constitution, the Commander-in-Chief of the Defense Services can legally take control of the country and ignore the vote.

“Those arguing that over the long term Parliament could be a forum for political change are in fact depending on a single factor, that at some point the Commander-in-Chief of the Defense Services will decide to hand over power,” said Zoya Phan. “The military have made it very clear they have no intention of handing over power. They have just introduced a new constitution specifically written to keep them in power, and human rights abuses continue.”

More details on the Parliament are available in a Burma Campaign UK briefing here.

For more information contact Zoya Phan, Campaigns Manager at Burma Campaign UK, on 020 7324 4710

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This post is in: Press Release

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