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Burmese Lower House Speaker says he’s a ‘democrat’

Chiang Mai (Mizzima) – Lower House speaker Shwe Mahn, a retired general, called himself a “democrat” in a speech delivered in Naypyitaw for an International Day of Democracy ceremony on Thursday. 

Shwe Mahn read a nine-page speech to lawmakers and journalists at Concert Theatre from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. He also addressed the audience at the ceremony as “democrats.”

Tomas Ojea Quintana, the U.N. envoy to Burma, left, with Lower House Speaker Shwe Mahn in Naypyitaw. Photo: MizzimaShwe Mahn served in the army for more than 40 years and retired before taking up his position in Parliament. He graduated from the 13th Intake of Defence Services Academy (DSA) in 1969.

“In Burma, democrat means dissidents to the government,” said an MP who was surprised and skeptical about the speech.

Lower House MP Khaing Khaing Maung Yee of the National Democratic Force agreed that the term “democrats” or “those who stand with democrats and democracy” is often used for political activists serving prison sentences, people who fight against the government by joining underground organizations and exile-based democracy activists.

Khaing Maung Yee said he welcomed the speaker’s address. “I have never heard such an expression before from someone holding such a high post. But he used this word straight. We can’t say yet if he spoke out of honesty or compromise or submission to something.”

In his speech, Shwe Mahn called for strengthening the role of Parliament and to build up the capacity of parliamentarians. His comparison of Burma’s Parliament to the U.S. Congress raised eyebrows among parliamentarians.

“Our Parliament is very similar to the U.S. Congress,” he said. “The organizational structure of the Congress’ affairs committees and our Parliament committees are very similar in general.”

Known for his close association with businessmen, he is described as a “moderate.” Shwe Mahn said that the deliberations in Parliament were conducted based on democratic principles and government departments would also practice democratic principles.

At the first-ever International Day of Democracy ceremony held in Naypyitaw, members of political parties read papers on democratic principles and systems.

Shwe Mahn said his definition of democracy is that it’s "not a command system, but a system where the majority decides and acts based on discussions."

"Good governance is not a command system, but decisions based on principles and governed by law in accordance with a majority decision,” he said.

Meanwhile, an International Day of Democracy ceremony was also held at the headquarters of the opposition National League for Democracy in Rangoon. NLD leader Aung San Suu Kyi said in her 10-minute address that Burma had reached a point where political changes were likely.

Shwe Mahn, 64, joined the army in 1969 as an officer and was promoted to General in 2005. He retired from the army in 2010 and contested as a Union Solidarity and Development Party candidate in Ottara Thiri Township in Naypyitaw for the Lower House constituency in the 2010 general election.

He was elected speaker of the Lower House in February 2011. He is also a member of the 11-member National Security and Defense Council.
Last Updated ( Friday, 16 September 2011 23:06 )  

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