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Myanmar parliament set for 1st session in 22 years

Myanmar's new parliament will hold its first session in 22 years on Jan. 31, state radio said Monday, an event the country's military rulers hail as one of the final steps in its self-styled "roadmap to democracy."

The new legislature dominated by pro-military lawmakers was elected in polls last year decried as unfair by the opposition parties, including that of Nobel Peace Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, who was recently freed from house arrest.

The country's 1,154 lawmakers will meet in a massive new building in the remote capital of Naypyitaw, the brief announcement said. It will be the first parliamentary session since a 1988 meeting in the old capital of Rangoon, which the junta renamed Yangon a year later.

The ruling junta's military-backed party, the Union Solidarity and Development Party, garnered nearly 80 percent of seats in the two-house Union Parliament in Nov. 7 polls, the country's first in two decades. The country's 14 regional parliaments will convene the same day in their respective areas, the announcement said.

"We have waited 20 years to be able to make our demands through the parliament," said Thein Nyunt, a member of the opposition National Democratic Force. "Now that the parliament is going to be convened, I hope I will be able to work for the betterment of the people and the country from within the system."

The opposition party, formed by a faction of Suu Kyi's party after it was disbanded for boycotting the polls, holds a mere 12 seats total in the national parliment.

Government opponents and outside observers have called the elections unfair and undemocratic, saying the results were manipulated to allow the military-backed party to win.

The election results assure that the military, which has ruled Myanmar since 1962, will continue to wield decisive power.

Under the constitution, the parliament elects the country's president and vice-president.

The constitution also allots 25 percent of parliamentary seats to military nominees, meaning that the pro-junta USDP party lawmakers combined with the nominees will account for 85 percent of seats in the lower house and 83 percent in the upper house. The dominance assures that the military through its allies can push through or block any legislation and constitutional amendments.

As was the case with the elections, there will be strict rules governing the decorum of lawmakers at parliament.

According to new laws announced in November, parliamentarians will be allowed freedom of expression unless their words endanger national security or the unity of the country. Any protest staged within parliament is punishable by up to two years in prison.

Anyone aside from lawmakers who enter the parliament while it is in session face a one-year prison term.

Holding the elections left just two steps to complete in the junta's so-called "roadmap to democracy" — convening parliament and building a modern developed democratic nation with a Head of State elected by parliament.

The country's last elections in 1990 were overwhelmingly won by the opposition party of Suu Kyi. The military refused to hand power and locked Suu Kyi away for most of the past 21 years, freeing her a week after the November elections. Her opposition party has been disbanded and has no presence in parliament.