Ready or not?

National League for Democracy MPs elected last November have performed badly in tests of their knowledge about parliamentary procedures.

By HEIN KO SOE | FRONTIER

The reaction of National League for Democracy leader Daw Aung San Suu Kyi to the results of tests for hundreds of new NLD MPs has focussed attention on how well prepared they will be for their roles after the new government takes office.

A disappointed Daw Aung San Suu Kyi told the MPs they had failed the tests, with lawmakers from Yangon and Mandalay performing the worst. Some MPs had scored zero, she said at the meeting in the Zabuthiri hall at the Union Parliament on March 1.

The scale of the NLD’s victory in the November elections made training a critical issue for the party because of the hundreds of victorious candidates without parliamentary experience.

The NLD won 390 of the 491 contested seats in the Union Parliament, 475 of the 630 available seats in state and regional assemblies and 21 of the 29 seats reserved for ethnic minorities.

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The party responded to the situation by providing a series of courses in parliamentary procedures for its newly-elected MPs in Nay Pyi Taw and Yangon in December and January. The courses were followed by tests, with the results passed to Daw Aung San Suu Kyi.

As well as the training to build capacity, the NLD MPs elected in November will also benefit from the knowledge of colleagues who have been MPs since the 2012 by-elections that resulted in Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and 43 other party members being elected to the Union Parliament.

Re-elected NLD MPs look forward to supporting the newcomers, said Daw Khin San Hlaing, who has represented Pale Township in the Pyithu Hluttaw since 2012.

“We are helping them with the parliamentary procedures, such as formulating and asking questions, conducting research for information to include in questions, compiling data, and gathering information about government projects,” she told Frontier on March 2.

Daw Khin San Hlaing said the training courses for the new MPs had also emphasised the importance of adhering to the NLD’s policies, rules and regulations.

U Sein Aung, who was elected to the Pyithu Hluttaw seat for Paletwa Township last November, said the NLD MPs new to parliament welcomed the opportunities to learn about parliamentary procedures, including from their more experienced peers.

“I am ready to learn about parliamentary procedures because I am a new one and we are ready to cooperate with each other to achieve a federal democracy,” he said, adding that the training included studying records of proceedings from the previous parliament.

Referring to the convening of the new Pyithu Hluttaw on February 1 and the Pyidaungsu Hluttaw a week later, U Jimmy, a leading member of the 88 Generation Peace and Open Society movement, said it was too soon to assess the performance of new NLD MPs.

“Some of these NLD MPs have long been active in politics and some have been political prisoners so they have a well-developed political awareness but they need parliamentary experience,” he told Frontier.

The NLD’s domination of the new parliament ensured it would be “so different to the old parliament,” U Jimmy said.

A Bangkok-based journalist specialising in ASEAN affairs, Kavi Chongkittivorn, said young, new MPs benefitted by learning from their senior peers.

“The NLD needs the workshops to train their rookies and newspaper columnists should also be writing about the key issues that young, first-time MPs need to know about, including parliamentary procedures,” Mr Kavi said.

Former Union Solidarity and Development Party MP U Thein Htun Oo, who was a member of the parliamentary bill committee, said he recommended extensive preparation for new MPs.

They needed to study the 2008 Constitution as well as parliamentary procedures, be able to ask short, precise questions and develop the research skills necessary to perform their roles effectively, he said.

U Thein Htun Oo said MPs must be ready to learn, read widely and listen to the voice of the public.

U Nyan Win, a member of the NLD’s central executive committee, said a support group would assist MPs by conducting a range of activities such as researching and compiling information and drafting questions, including on budget allocations.

The group would include CEC members and three or four non-partisan academics, such as U Myint, President U Thein Sein’s chief economic advisor.

U Nyan Win acknowledged that the NLD’s overwhelming majority in the Union Parliament meant that maintaining discipline in the parliamentary party might be a challenge.

“We can’t control all of the NLD MPs, they have different opinions, but new MPs must follow their leader’s instructions and party policy and learn to cooperate with all MPs and parties to achieve a democratic, federal country,” he said.

By Hein Ko Soe

By Hein Ko Soe

Hein Ko Soe is a Myanmar reporter. Prior to joining Frontier he worked on staff at Mizzima.
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