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Mar. 10, 2015 - Updated 04:16 UTC

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Myanmar’s Fresh Start

Feb. 2, 2016

Myanmar has entered a new political era. Hundreds of lawmakers from the National League for Democracy led by Aung San Suu Kyi took their seats on Monday for the opening session of the new parliament in the capital Naypyidaw. This comes after the NLD won 80 percent of the contested seats in the November elections.

It was impossible not to notice the newly-elected NLD members. They were dressed in orange in contrast to the military representatives who were wearing green. The military is guaranteed a quarter of the seats in both the Upper and Lower Houses.

The NLD selected Win Myint, a high-ranking party member who is part of Aung San Suu Kyi's inner circle, as the speaker of the Lower House.

As he announced the opening of parliament, Win Myint said the people should be proud of the nation's democratization.

In the role of deputy speaker, the parliament chose an official who has worked closely with the military regime. This is being seen as an olive branch to the military in a bid to smooth the way for the new government.

An editor with the English-language edition of Irrawaddy magazine, Kyaw Zwa Moe called it an historic moment. He said the people of Myanmar have high expectations but that they also know that the military remains a powerful force. As an example, he cited the fact that the constitution bars Aung San Suu Kyi from becoming president because she was married to a foreigner and her children are British. He said the people understand that the new administration will face a lot of challenges.

Many of the new parliamentarians are professionals including doctors and teachers, and have no political experience. Others have served time as political prisoners.

One of them is Lower House lawmaker Bo Bo Oo, a representative from Yangon. He meets with his constituents to hear their grievances ranging from unsafe schools to living conditions.

Bo was a university student when he joined the pro-democracy movement. He ran into trouble with the military authorities and spent the next 25 years in prison.

When he was released, he embarked on a new life as an art dealer. But he said he has never forgotten his cellmates who included former military officers ousted in a power struggle.

He called the old political system “rotten” and said he’ll never forget what he lived through. Bo recently visited a Buddhist monastery to help serve food to people who had lost their homes in a fire. The residents said they hadn't received enough support from the government, so Bo’s party had stepped in.

One of the victims said he was grateful that Bo had come to help those who had suffered and that he would pray for his success in parliament.

The new NLD lawmakers gathered in Naypyidaw last week to receive their parliamentary certification. They were also given a 3-day crash course on topics like the Constitution and the budget.

Bo said he and his colleagues are novices and would be learning as they go along. But he said if they remain true to their principles, they wouldn’t make any mistakes. He said he was eager to get started.

Bo and his parliamentary colleagues are part of a great step forward toward democracy. They carry the expectations of many on their shoulders as they set out on a new phase in their lives.

Kyaw Zwa Moe from Irrawaddy magazine said it is still not known who will become president. He called it a “million dollar question” that even Aung San Suu Kyi doesn’t have an answer to and that the decision is up to the military. He said Aung San Suu Kyi has been in discussions with the commander-in-chief of the military about the possibility of her taking on the role but added that the military would first have to suspend Article 59(f) of the Constitution which bars Aung San Suu Kyi from becoming president. Kyaw Zwa Moe said if she ever hoped to assume the country’s top position, she would have to compromise in negotiations with the military leaders.

When asked about Aung San Suu Kyi’s statement that she intended to run the country through a proxy, Kyaw Zwa Moe said people in Myanmar understand the concept even though the international community may have difficulty coming to grips with it. He said the majority of people voted for the NLD because of her leadership and that she would be “the lady in charge”.

Nevertheless, he said the military would play a very important role overseeing the peace process and the nationwide ceasefire. The constitution guarantees the military 3 key ministerial positions -- the defense ministry, the border affairs ministry and the home affairs ministry. He said the new president should be aware of the role of the military and should work on maintaining a good relationship with it. Otherwise, he said, whatever the new administration does in terms of economic policy, the peace process, or political dialogue among the ethnic groups, the military might prove to be a barrier.

The new government is set to begin work in March.