REUTERS - Nobel peace laureate Aung San Suu Kyi will stand in a by-election on April 1 after taking a leap of faith in agreeing to participate in Myanmar's military-dominated political system.
Her National League for Democracy (NLD) party ended its political boycott in November after accepting an olive branch from President Thein Sein, a former general in the junta that sidelined the NLD for years and imprisoned many of its members.
Suu Kyi's participation is seen as an endorsement of a much-criticised system, although she wants to amend the constitution to reduce the clout of the military, which ruled Myanmar for five decades until last March.
Western countries have made the holding of free and fair by-elections a condition for lifting sanctions.
Here are details about the by-elections and parliament.
- Just 48 of the 1,158 seats in the national legislature will be contested. Forty are for the lower house, six for the senate and two for regional chambers. The winners will serve until general elections in 2015.
- The 48 seats were vacated by lawmakers who became ministers or took up posts on government commissions.
- Some 176 candidates, 168 from 17 parties plus eight independents, will take part, according to research by Reuters. Suu Kyi will run in Kawhmu, a constituency on the outskirts of Yangon. The election commission has yet to confirm who will run.
- Myanmar's legislature consists of a lower house, with 440 seats (330 elected), a 224-seat senate (168 elected) and 14 regional assemblies of varying size. In all chambers, 25 percent of seats are reserved for military personnel chosen by the armed forces commander-in-chief.
- The Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), which is stacked with retired military people, won the 2010 election in a landslide. The vote was marred by allegations of fraud and intimidation. No international monitors were present.
- The USDP took 76 percent of the total vote in 2010; it took 79 percent of the available lower house seats, 77 percent in the senate and 75 percent of the 14 regional chambers. The biggest opposition party, the National Democratic Force, won fewer than 2 percent of the legislative seats.
- The president, who was elected by parliament, and his cabinet, were mostly elected as lawmakers but resigned from their posts as MPs and are banned from taking part in any activities of their parties. Most are USDP members.
JUST A RUBBER STAMP?
- Lawmakers' powers are limited and constitutional amendments require the support of 75 percent of parliament, meaning attempts to change a system apparently devised to entrench military powers, as Suu Kyi plans, could be difficult.
- The constitution states that budget bills can be discussed "but not refused or curtailed" and parliament has no right to block presidential appointments, unless they're unlawful.
- Parliamentarians have been more vocal than expected and have been told by the house speakers to vote and express opinions freely. Issues long considered taboo have been openly debated.
- The president appoints ministers, who are not required to have been elected lawmakers. He is not answerable to parliament or courts, provided he acts constitutionally, and legislative approval for key decisions is often not required.
- The National Defence and Security Council, an 11-member committee dominated by military men, has broad decision-making authority and the armed forces chief can assume sovereign power in a state of emergency, with presidential backing.
(Compiled by Martin Petty and Aung Hla Tun; Editing by Alan Raybould)
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