Myanmar's Suu Kyi makes parliamentary debut

Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi made her historic parliamentary debut Monday, marking a new phase in her near quarter century struggle to bring democracy to her army-dominated homeland.

Suu Kyi, whose unswerving campaigning saw her locked up for years by the former junta and earned her a Nobel Peace Prize, appeared calm as she arrived to take her seat as an elected politician in the capital Naypyidaw.

"I will try my best for the country," she told AFP as she embarked on her first day of active public office.

Suu Kyi joined fellow members of her National League for Democracy (NLD), as both the party and its charismatic leader transform from dissident outsiders to mainstream political players in the wake of landmark April by-elections.

The democracy champion's entrance into the legislature comes at an uncertain time for Myanmar, after recent communal violence and a series of student arrests cast a shadow over promising changes in the former pariah state.

But it also comes amid expectations of a change of personnel in the top echelons of the reformist regime, which replaced junta rule last year, including the replacement of senior hardline figures.

Myanmar state media announced a reshuffle of six deputy ministers late Monday, without saying whether or not the move was part of a wider reorganisation.

Military members of parliament are this week set to nominate a successor to vice president Tin Aung Myint Oo, a renowned hardliner closely linked to former junta chief Than Shwe, whose resignation on health reasons was announced Wednesday.

Suu Kyi, one of the NLD's 37 lower house members of parliament, postponed her debut in the fledgling legislature last week to recover from a gruelling European tour and visit her constituency.

No special provisions were made for the attendance of Myanmar's most famous former political prisoner, who listened attentively as other MPs spoke during the day's debates.

Asked at the end of the day if she had enjoyed the session, the 67-year-old replied: "A job is a job."

Her presence in Naypyidaw helps lend legitimacy to a parliament still dominated by the military and its political allies, which came into being following controversial November 2010 elections that were marred by the absence of Suu Kyi and her party.

Even military men appeared pleased to see the veteran activist, despite NLD plans to ease them out of the legislature by scrapping a constitutional provision granting them a quarter of seats.

"It's good that she arrived today, we all welcome her," said Brigadier General Wai Lin.

MPs have a number of pressing issues on the table for discussion during the current session, which began last Wednesday.

Communal violence in June between ethnic Buddhist Rakhine and Muslim Rohingya, which left dozens dead and tens of thousands homeless, is on the agenda, with an ongoing state of emergency requiring parliamentary approval.

A new foreign investment law aimed at resuscitating the country's moribund economy is also in the pipeline.

Suu Kyi, who on Tuesday pledged her party would push for greater transparency once inside parliament, told reporters during a break in the session that she had not yet decided what proposals to put to the house.

The NLD's involvement in mainstream politics comes as a result of sweeping changes by a new regime, including the release of hundreds of political prisoners, liberalising sections of the battered economy and tentative ceasefires with several major armed ethnic rebel groups.

But the government came under fire from other activists last week after authorities on Friday briefly detained around 20 student leaders ahead of the 50th anniversary of a brutal suppression of a student protest.

They were freed late Saturday.

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