NAYPYIDAW, Myanmar: Myanmar’s pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi applauded the military-stacked parliament on its final day in office Friday, as one-time enemies welcomed a power transition that will loosen the army’s 50-year grip on power.
After a de-mob happy last session for sitting MPs, Suu Kyi congratulated her political opponents on “opening the road” for her party, which won a November election in a landslide.
Friday called time on a five-year term of a parliament that has fundamentally changed Myanmar’s political landscape, delivered a shot in the arm to the economy and greater freedoms to society.
“I believe we can all co-operate for our country and people, whether it is outside or inside the parliament,” said Suu Kyi, who was held captive for more than 15 years by the army.
Her address to lawmakers from across the political spectrum came at a party at the Naypyidaw parliament that included karaoke for normally po-faced army figures.
Her National League for Democracy (NLD) lawmakers will take their seats for the first time on Monday.
The back-slapping mood was in stark contrast to the acrimony and repression that characterized the junta years.
For decades Myanmar was seen as a basket-case run by paranoid generals who sunk the economy, crushed dissent and cut the Southeast Asian nation off from the rest of the world.
But reforms since 2011 steered by President Thein Sein have overhauled the country and culminated in the NLD election victory.
Suu Kyi is acutely aware of the deep challenges ahead to rebuild a country worn down by war, poverty and still under the influence of a powerful military.
Songs today, challenges tomorrow
Yet on Friday in a once unthinkable atmosphere of collaboration, MPs took to the stage to belt out farewell songs as more than a thousand lawmakers old and new tucked into a slap-up meal in a grand hall after the closing session.
Khin Aung Myint, the outgoing upper house speaker, was given an enthusiastic round of applause for his performance of a local favorite called “Village Policy.”
The outgoing ruling party heavyweight had earlier given a joke-laden speech to the final session of the combined houses of parliament.
President Thein Sein on Thursday hailed the country’s democratic progress as a “triumph” for the country’s people.
He will remain in his post until the end of March, while the NLD will control the new parliament set to sit for the first time on February 1.
The party faces formidable economic and social challenges.
The military also retains huge powers, with a junta-era constitution giving unelected soldiers a quarter of all parliamentary seats as well as key government ministries.
The army-scripted charter also blocks Suu Kyi from becoming president because she married and had children with a foreigner.
The Nobel laureate, locked up by the former junta for 15 years, has vowed to rule “above” the president without revealing who the proxy ruler would be.
Her greatest test will be to work with the army as she keeps her sights on power.
“She has had a lot of obstacles and hurdles put in her path but she has come perhaps to the last one and the prize that she wants so much is within grasp,” said Myanmar political analyst Khin Zaw Win. “But she needs the help of the military.”
Observers say Suu Kyi and her colleagues will have to learn fast on the job to overcome their relative political inexperience.
Civil wars continue to rage in Myanmar’s ethnic minority borderlands, despite a nascent peace process.
Corruption bedevils the country’s creaking bureaucracy, while years of neglect also mean many of the nation’s 51 million people still struggle to access basic services.