BANGKOK- One of the most underrated aspects of Myanmar's transition has been its Parliament, dismissed early on by critics as a rubber stamp because 25 per cent of its seats are reserved for military personnel.
Significantly, it has turned out to be anything but; debates have been robust and issues are thrashed out vigorously.
This performance has surprised almost everyone. Yet it is just three years old and still the world's newest Parliament, with all its lawmakers first-term members who have never sat in a parliament before. This is a problem because they are inexperienced, under-resourced and overworked, which in turn affects the quality of decision-making and legislation.
A new report by non-governmental organisation International Crisis Group (ICG) released on Sunday says: "Lawmaking is constrained by representatives' lack of experience and institutional weaknesses in what is the first independent legislature in Myanmar for 50 years."
It notes: "Lawmakers have little knowledge of democratic practice, and there is very little institutional support. Without offices or staff, with no policy and research help, and with committees lacking internal experts to report on and analyse the issues, efficient, effective lawmaking is impossible."
It concludes: "Far greater investments are needed if this critical branch of government is to meet public expectation."
Myanmar's Parliament consists of a 440-seat Lower House and a 224-seat Upper House. The ruling military-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) has the majority of seats, and the opposition National League for Democracy (NLD), led by Ms Aung San Suu Kyi, has 7 per cent of seats.
In both, 25 per cent of seats are reserved for military officers appointed by the commander-in-chief, General Min Aung Hlaing. These military officers are rotated regularly. But they are not rubber stamps nor do they go unchallenged themselves. The military bloc has not always voted in favour of the military-sponsored ruling party.