Incoming MPs from the National League for Democracy are having mixed experiences as they begin their new roles.
By MRATT KYAW THU | FRONTIER
The MPs-elect from the National League for Democracy strode vigorously up the stairs of the vast hluttaw building, their eyes shining with anticipation.
Even though many of them lack experience in public office they are ready go and debate issues of national importance in the first parliament to reflect the people’s true desire since the early 1960s.
The new Pyithu Hluttaw convened on February 1 but some of the new MPs did not know when the Pyidaungsu Hluttaw would begin and were waiting for instructions from the NLD leader, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi.
During a visit on January 30 to the Nay Pyi Taw Municipal Guesthouse, which provides accommodation for MPs, she rebuked incoming legislators about the litter around the building.
The NLD MPs-elect listened in obedient silence. In the aftermath of the recent misunderstanding at the top levels of the NLD that resulted in a statement declaring Daw Aung San Suu Kyi its only official spokesperson, most were also careful to remain silent in the presence of reporters. The move came two days after NLD spokesman and Central Executive Committee member U Nyan Win revealed the names of the party’s nominations for speakers of the lower and upper houses to AFP, much to the chagrin of the party leader.
Some of the NLD MPs-elect made mistakes when they clicked the button to cast their votes. “Our party central executive committee members are angry and disappointed about that. I guess that some of them think they can do whatever they like in parliament because they are already MPs.”
When reporters approached them to ask about party policies or the transition process, their only response was a firm, “No”.
Before the new parliament convened, MPs-elect were given the opportunity of rehearsing parliamentary procedures at the hluttaw, including the electronic secret voting system.
Sources at the rehearsal said some of the NLD MPs-elect made mistakes when they clicked the button to cast their votes. They said some high-profile NLD MPs-elect had ignored voting instructions from the party during the exercise.
“Some famous MPs-elect did not click the button as ordered but did what they wanted,” said a Pyithu Hluttaw NLD MP-elect who requested anonymity. “Our party central executive committee members are angry and disappointed about that,” he said. “I guess that some of them think they can do whatever they like in parliament because they are already MPs.”
Following the rehearsal, all Union parliament NLD MPs-elect were summoned to a meeting with the party’s CEC at the guesthouse on January 31 and warned not to make mistakes when they vote.
Apart from maintaining discipline, another emerging challenge for the party is tensions over competition for ministerial and other appointments.
The nominations for speakers’ positions have been revealed but there’s keen interest in who will be nominated as chief ministers of the states and regions, a prerogative of the president.
Meanwhile, some of the incoming MPs were complaining of feeling ignored by party colleagues with a prominent public profile.
“I had hoped that all NLD MPs would welcome us warmly in person, but it’s not like that; some famous MPs don’t want to talk to us. They are acting like an executive and it makes me feel sad,” said U Htay Win, who won the Pyithu Hluttaw seat for Tachilek in Shan State, where he was a former NLD township chairman.
U Aung Min, who represents Zalun Township in Ayeyarwady Region, said he was ready to serve in any capacity. “I’m ready to carry out my duties for the public and I believe in my leader, so the issue of being appointed to a ministerial or other position does not matter to me,” he said.
U Aung Min, a retired deputy director of the Ministry of Livestock, Fisheries and Rural Development, was chosen as an election candidate by the party’s CEC.
Most of the new batch of NLD MPs are former political activists who were persecuted during the military government. Many struggled to make a living. Some were vendors, some were in the Tatmadaw and some worked as volunteers in party-supported non-profit schools.
Those with an income were lucky to make K200,000 (US$153) a month, but as MPs they will receive K1 million (about $765) a month, plus a K20,000 food allowance and a travel allowance when parliament is in session, a total of about K1.4 million. In line with NLD policy, they are required to contribute 25 percent of their salary to the party and cover their food and accommodation costs.
“I’m living like a boss here,” said guesthouse resident U Than Aung, a Pyithu Hluttaw MP from Ngapudaw Township in Ayeyarwady Region. “Sometimes I think about how much my current situation is so much better than when I was an underground political activist. I can’t believe what I’ve got now.”
U Than Aung joined the NLD in 2012 after resigning as a teacher at government schools. He had previously taught as a volunteer at schools in remote areas.
“After paying for food and accommodation and contributing K250,000 to the party budget I will have nearly K600,000 a month,” said U Aung Kyaw Oo, a Pyithu Hluttaw MP from Mongton Township in Shan State.
A former soldier in the Tatmadaw, he said he was once imprisoned over a misunderstanding involving the misuse of bullets and gunpowder for which he was responsible in Mongton Township.
Some of the MPs at the guesthouse say they are enjoying the change in their material circumstances.
“It’s fine to have a full stomach,” said U Than Aung. “We’ve been running like dogs in the past, life is much better now.”