Myanmar parliament suspended ahead of crunch polls

Myanmar pro-democracy and opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi talks to the media as she attends a Parliament meeting at the Lower House of Parliament in Naypyitaw August 18, 2015.
PHOTO: Reuters

YANGON - Myanmar lawmakers on Friday held their last meetings at parliament as the body was suspended ahead of crucial general elections set to redraw the former junta-ruled nation's political landscape.

The combined houses of parliament will reconvene only after the November 8 vote, the first nationwide poll in a quarter of a century to be contested by opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi's hugely popular National League for Democracy (NLD).

"There will be no legislative meetings before the election in November," Soe Yin of the ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) told AFP, adding that parliament would only reconvene in an emergency.

Under Myanmar's electoral system the current parliament will still be active until the end of January 2016, when it will hand over to a new legislature that then selects a president.

Suu Kyi is barred from the top political job by the constitution, drafted by the country's former junta rulers, who kept her locked up for some 15 years as they tried to quash the democracy movement.

The Nobel laureate was recently thwarted in her attempts to change aspects of the charter by hardliners in the army-backed ruling party and unelected soldiers, who are guaranteed a quarter of seats in the legislature under the constitution.

Suu Kyi this week told AFP that the country was "not very far along" its path to democratisation, citing an internal putsch at the USDP earlier this month in which President Thein Sein used the security forces to remove his rival Shwe Mann from the leadership.

Shwe Mann, who remains in his influential role as party speaker, had cultivated a close working relationship with Suu Kyi and many speculated that he could be endorsed by the NLD as a potential compromise candidate for president.

But Suu Kyi this week said the NLD would choose someone from its own ranks, shrugging off criticism that she has failed to cultivate an heir within the party, which remains dominated by ageing veterans of mass 1988 democracy protests.

"I think it's a better idea to have a lot of number twos rather than just one particular number two. It's healthier," she told AFP in an interview on Tuesday.

Her party is fielding over 1,000 candidates in the elections, the first national vote it has participated in since a 1990 poll that it won by a landslide but was later annulled by the junta.

The military handed power to a quasi-civilian government in 2011 following an election that was marred by widespread allegations of cheating and the absence of the NLD and Suu Kyi, who was under house arrest.