The military continues to operate by means of undemocratic power over the Parliament of Myanmar (Burma) and remains an obstacle to progress, AIPMC president Eva Kusuma Sundari warned a delegation of visiting Members of Parliament from Burma or Myanmar this week.
According to Thursday press release by The ASEAN Inter-Parliamentary Myanmar Caucus (AIPMC) , Indonesian MPs, including Ms. Sundari, welcomed a delegation of parliamentarians from Myanmar (Burma) on December 11, exchanging experiences, thoughts and ideas aimed at helping the country’s nascent parliament strengthening its capacities to promote a just and well-built Burmese society.
The Burmese MPs, 11 members of the Union-level parliament (both upper and lower houses) and 15 members of the regional / state level parliaments are in Indonesia on a 7-day capacity building and exposure program, supported by the Shalom Foundation also known locally as the Nyein Foundation (Burma) and Ajar Foundation.
The Myanmar delegation included representatives from: All Mon Regions Democracy Party (AMDP); Chin Progressive Party (CPP); Chin National Party (CNP); Inn Nationality Development Party (INDP); Kayan National Party (KNP); Lahu National Development Party (LNDP); Pa-O National Organization (PNO); Phalon Sawaw Democratic Party (PSDP); Rakhine Nationality Development Party; Shan National Democratic Party (SNDP); Ta-ang (Palaung) National Party (TNP); Unity and Democracy Party of Kachin State (UDPKS); and the Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), as mentioned by the press statement.
The delegation met with their Indonesian peers at the House of Representatives in Jakarta. Along with Ms. Sundari, who is also on the parliamentary commission on law and human rights, were MP Budiman Sudjatmiko, who sits on the commission on government, and MP Nova Riyanti Yusuf, commission on health and labour, the press statement said.
AIPMC has been working with a range of partners inside and outside of Myanmar (Burma) to help support, develop, facilitate and deliver programs aimed at building the capacity of Myanmar’s governmental and parliamentary institutions.
According to the press release, the meeting was a follow-up to earlier efforts that saw AIPMC members from Cambodia, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore and Thailand meet with Myanmar MPs in Naypyitaw in July of this year. Observers have noted that despite enthusiasm and an atmosphere of sustained critical engagement within the Myanmar Parliament, inexperience and insufficient knowledge have combined to limit parliamentarian impact to date.
“While we have much to learn from each other, we must acknowledge that the process taking place in Myanmar (Burma) today is very different to that which we experienced here in Indonesia,” Ms Sundari told the meeting.
“The Indonesian reform process was bottom-up, while the changes taking place in Myanmar today are very much top-down. It was a strong civil society and media that pushed the reforms here and the military has really clamped down on any free thought for several decades in Myanmar and they face a real challenge in getting democratization on the right track,” she added.
The AIPMC president and respected parliamentarian told the visiting delegates of the key efforts made to empower Indonesia’s parliament in the transition following the end of Suharto’s 32-year rule as president in 1998.
Ms. Sundari explained the making of effective amendments to the Indonesian constitution without changing key democratic principles, successfully removing the military from politics, and increasing protections for human rights within the constitution, which includes decentralization and formal establishment of relationships between civil society and the parliament.
“We have 80 independent commissions as a result of one-by-one developing and giving strength to the vital mechanisms of check and balances. For example, alongside the Supreme Court we have also established judicial commissions to monitor the court,” Ms. Sundari told the Myanmar delegation in her opening remarks.
“The Indonesian Parliament has new power and legitimacy, which makes it stronger than it ever was during the Suharto period; the parliament selects and appoints key executive positions, such as Supreme Court judges and members of parliamentary commissions. Strengthening the power of the parliament is necessary, and it cannot be done without amending the constitution,” Ms. Sundari said.
The meeting was full of frank discussion, with the visiting parliamentarians seeking experiential advice from their Indonesian peers on how they could enact similar reforms in their own country. Ms Sundari noted that it was very productive to get to speak to representatives from so many ethnic parties, and was encouraged by their tenacity and honesty.
Although hopeful for the future, the Myanmar parliamentarians expressed skepticism of the current situation but were eager to promote the parliament role as a key driver of reform. Representatives from the UDPKS explained the obstacles that barred parliamentarians seeking an end to the ruthless conflict between Burma Army and the Kachin rebels.
The military-drawn constitution reserves 25 per cent of the seats for armed forces in the Parliament, so it is great barrier for democrats to carry out any changes since the power is centralized by the military-backed government, not the parliament, one Kachin MP explained. Then he asked the roles of parliament and civil society that played in resolving internal conflicts in Indonesia.
During the meeting, Ms. Sundari told the delegates that a strong parliament backed by a well-built civilian movement helps to check the power of the government and simultaneously ensure accountability and transparency of the parliament.
Ms. Sundari also told the Burmese parliamentarians that civil society, the media and the parliament can work together to end internal conflicts, as they did in Aceh, and push democracy forward. The parliament has the role of drafting and enacting key bills that will force this process and enact into law meant for protections and policies that are in favor of the people’s interests.
According to AIPMC, this exposure trip to Jakarta was preceded by regular capacity-building training arranged by parties inside Burma and is designed at ensuring effective representation of constituency and national interests in the parliamentary system.