Myanmar’s pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi applauded the military-stacked parliament on its final day in office yesterday, as one-time enemies welcomed a transition that will loosen the army’s 50-year grip on power.
After a de-mob happy last session for sitting MPs, Suu Kyi congratulated her political opponents on “opening the road” for her party, which won a landslide in November elections.
“I believe we can all co-operate for our country and people, whether it is outside or inside the parliament,” said Suu Kyi, who was held captive for more than 15 years by the army.
Her address to lawmakers from across the political spectrum came at a party at the Naypyidaw parliament that included karaoke for normally po-faced army figures.
Her National League for Democracy (NLD) lawmakers will take their seats for the first time on Monday.
The back-slapping mood was in stark contrast to the acrimony and repression that characterised the junta years.
For decades Myanmar was seen as a basket-case run by paranoid generals who sunk the economy, crushed dissent and cut the Southeast Asian nation off from the rest of the world.
But reforms since 2011 steered by President Thein Sein have overhauled the country and culminated in the NLD election victory.
SONGS TODAY, CHALLENGES TOMORROW
Suu Kyi faces deep challenges ahead to rebuild a country worn down by war, poverty and still under the influence of a powerful military.
Yet in a once unthinkable atmosphere of collaboration yesterday, MPs took to the stage to belt out farewell songs as more than a thousand lawmakers old and new tucked into a slap-up meal in a grand hall after the closing session.
Outgoing parliament speaker Shwe Mann crooned an English-language school favourite, urging the audience to join him as he sang “dreams may come true”.
Other performance highlights included a colourful dance routine by ethnic minority MPs and Myanmar classics sung by uniformed soldiers.
“The Lady”, as Suu Kyi is known in Myanmar, did not sing.
President Thein Sein on Thursday hailed the country’s democratic progress as a “triumph” for the country’s people.
He will remain in his post until the end of March, while the NLD will control the new parliament from February 1.
The military retains huge powers, with a junta-era constitution giving unelected soldiers a quarter of all parliamentary seats as well as key government ministries.
The army-scripted charter also blocks Suu Kyi from becoming president because she married and had children with a foreigner.
The Nobel laureate has vowed to rule “above” the president without revealing who the proxy ruler would be.
Her greatest test will be to work with the army as she keeps her sights on power.
Suu Kyi has already taken that charm offensive to the very top, meeting army chief Min Aung Hlaing on Monday.
She even secured the surprise endorsement of former junta strongman Than Shwe in a meeting following the elections last year.
In a press conference following the day’s festivities, Shwe Mann — who was a top general in Than Shwe’s government — sought to take credit for that encounter.
“Although he has no power today, he still has some deserved influence. I thought a meeting between Aung San Suu Kyi and senior general Than Shwe would be beneficial, so I arranged for it,” he told reporters.
Observers say Suu Kyi and her colleagues will have to learn fast to overcome their relative political inexperience. Civil wars continue to rage in Myanmar’s ethnic minority borderlands, despite a nascent peace process.
Corruption bedevils the country’s creaking bureaucracy, while years of neglect also mean many of the nation’s 51 million people still struggle to access basic services.