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100 Days of Parliament: Many Promises, Little Changes

By Burma Partnership  •  May 16, 2011

The first 100 days of a new Parliament can be a defining moment for a burgeoning democracy, with respect for democratic principles, openness and transparency forming the foundation of a successful democratic government. 11 May 2011 saw the first 100 days of Parliament in Burma, but the new nominally civilian government had little to show for itself.

Burma’s Parliament represents a degree of structural change, but due to measures imposed on non-military backed MPs, these MPs have been restricted from performing their responsibilities. They have faced mounting challenges in parliament, with the Speakers in both the National and People’s Assembly blocking 87% of proposals submitted, most notably a proposal concerning national reconciliation. Laws enacted in November have granted MPs freedom of speech, providing their words do not endanger national security or the unity of the country;  questions put forward by MPs must not affect international relations or undermine the “interests” of the State and its citizens.

The Parliament concluded on 30 March, and is not required to convene again until 2012. Ongoing work is to be carried out by four permanent committees – the Bill Committee, Public Accounts Committee, Parliament Rights Committee and Government’s Guarantees, Pledges and Undertakings Vetting Committee. While the formation of these four committees could theoretically provide a system of checks and balances, the committees are crippled by a significant lack of transparency as all discussions in the committee meetings are to be kept out of the public eye. Furthermore, the committees are chaired by MPs from the military backed USDP, who also make up at least 75% of the committee members in three out of four committees.

The lack of substantive change in governance has been reflected in the policies on the ground. With continued armed clashes in Eastern Burma, including a recent skirmish in Karen State that lead to the influx of over 1000 civilians fleeing across the border into Thailand. With over ¼ of the budget dedicated to the military, the nominally civilian government has demonstrated little effort to shift away from its military roots. Reports surfaced in March detailing the military’s intentions to broaden the infamous “Four Cuts” campaign to areas under control of cease-fire armed ethnic groups refusing to be consolidated under the Burma Army controlled Border Guard Force. The effects of this policy have already been documented this year, particularly in Karen and Shan State, where thousands of villagers have become displaced due to renewed military offenses. A growing food shortage crisis in Northern Karen State, exasperated by military offenses, is expected to affect over 8,000 villagers in Papun District.

Since the convening of parliament, authorities have not only failed to release the 2,061 political prisoners, but have furthermore continued to arbitrarily arrest and detain individuals, including a blood donation volunteer and former military officer. Child soldier recruitment remains rampant, and human rights lawyer Aye Myint has received 15 cases of child soldier recruitment in 2011 alone.

While few expect changes to occur overnight, under the governance of the new Parliament, little, if at all, has improved. Restrictions and regulations in Parliament indicate a lack of political will to govern in a democratic manner, and decisions and policies enacted by the new government has, in some cases, led to increasing human rights violations.

Instead of seeking to firmly address issues on the ground, the regime has simply invested its time into developing claims of change. Following UN Special Envoy Vijay Nambiar’s meeting with the new military regime’s Foreign Minister and Home Minister in Naypyidaw, Nambiar noted that the regime had “made some very interesting statements… which are very encouraging.” The international community must recognize that words do not equal actions. If the first 100 days of parliament is anything to judge by, the people of Burma have little to hope for under the governance of the current regime.

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