Burma’s highly controversial new Parliament will convene for the first time in less than two weeks on January 31. Under the 2008 junta-drafted constitution, the military has a majority of seats reserved for their own appointed officials: 25% of the seats in regional, state, and national assemblies. The 25% is a strategic number set by the junta, as more than 75% approval is required for any changes to the constitution. With their majority win in the globally criticized elections in November 2010, the junta is placing a total of 388 military officers into these seats, many with a comparatively low rank. According to the Democratic Voice of Burma, “A source close to the army said that the 388 include Burmese graduates from military schools in Russia, as well as army doctors, but that no personnel from combat and infantry troops were appointed.” The vast majority of appointed personnel hold the rank of major or captain, with only 19 positions filled by colonels, and a single spot assigned to a brigadier general.
The road to the Parliament has been littered with complaints and controversy, from lawsuits and accusations of fraud to the inability of newly elected Parliament members to buy the essential Parliamentary law and rule books.
Leading the controversies are the multitudes of as-yet-unconfirmed reports of Senior General Than Shwe’s choice of himself as president of the new democracy. Than Shwe is also supposedly orchestrating the positions of vice-presidents and chief ministers to be filled by his own people, despite appeals from opposition parties for ethnic and minority party members to hold these positions. Ethnic parties have already begun setting their Parliamentary agendas, as well as drafting initial bills to present to Parliament. For the Chin Party, tourism, conservation, living wages and education are at the top of their list.