MP backs Burma change

THE election that yesterday elevated Burmese democracy activist Aung San Suu Kyi to a seat in her nation's parliament was "part of a necessary transition - certainly not free or fair - but acceptable for the moment", PAGE MP and long time activist for democratic reform in Burma, Janelle Saffin has said.

Ms Saffin said the Burmese parliament had the "potential to morph into" a democratic parliament, but that there were still many hurdles - not least the current laws in parliament itself, which curtail effective democratic policy-making.

Less than 7% of the available seats in the Burmese parliament were contested during the election, as it was designed to fill only those seats made vacant by the same number of MP's being elevated to the ministry.

Burmese law, unlike Australia, prohibits ministers from being members of parliament.

The vast majority of the ministry are members of the dominant ruling party, the USDP. 

With 25% of seats in the Burmese parliament also reserved for military officers - who still wear their uniforms in parliament - the hopeful signs of change are still a long way from fruition.

Nevertheless the election and events preceding it over the past year, including the first poll in 20 years in November 2010 and the high profile release of 651 political prisoners in January, did suggest a step in the right direction.

"Even one change in Burma is noticeable", said Ms Saffin, who had intended to be part of overseeing the elections in an independent capacity but had her visa rejected at the last minute. 

Mrs Saffin described Ms Suu Kyi as a "beacon", saying the people of Burma considered her their leader.

Every day people were 'desperately awaiting the economic changes' democratic reforms would hopefully bring, as well as a lessening of the sanctions that have combined with the repressive regime, crippled the Burmese economy.

As for the military presence in parliament, Ms Saffin had one suggestion: "They should take their uniforms off".

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