January 28th, 2011

MYANMAR/BURMA — In what may be the greatest choreographed bit of legislative theatre ever, fake politicians, elected in a universally condemned faux election will take their seats on Monday in what The Economist rightly calls Myanmar’s Sham Legislature.

It will be, of course, all down hill from there.

In the sprawling new capital of Naypyidaw, Myanmar’s enormous showcase parliament building awaits its first legislators. After a general election in November, the military government hopes that the opening of the bicameral parliament on January 31st, amid suitable pomp, will appear to usher in a new democratic era. Its first job will be to form an electoral college to choose a fresh president and two vice-presidents.

Also awaiting the legislators will be the new laws and rules governing their conduct, published with rather less fanfare on January 11th and running to 17 bound volumes. These give a better guide to what might be expected of the new parliament than any pronouncements by the regime. According to those who have seen the rules, MPs may not, for example, simply ask a question. They first have to submit the question to the director-general of the lower house ten days before a parliamentary session, after which it will be vetted to ensure that it does not reveal state secrets, trouble international relations, or undermine the “interests” of the state. Should the poor, defenceless question survive that mangle, the speaker of the lower house still has the right to reject it, with no appeal.

Members themselves have been warned not to bring “cameras, radios, cassette players, computers, hand phones, and any kinds of voice-transmission or recording devices” into parliament on opening day. And no citizen should even think of turning up to sample the cut and thrust of parliamentary debate. Without the direct permission of the speaker, such an enormity would warrant at least a year in prison or a hefty fine.

Clearly, the last event anyone in power in Myanmar wants is for actual recording of the farce to leak out.

Do what you can to make this a good morning, Myanmar.

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