Aung San Suu Kyi, Myanmar’s pro-democracy leader, and newly elected MPs from her National League for Democracy (NLD) party have refused to attend the opening session of parliament over a dispute regarding the wording of the parliamentary oath.
Suu Kyi and other members of her party refused to travel to the capital Naypyidaw to enter parliament on Monday.
The NLD wants the phrasing in the politicians' oath changed from "safeguard the constitution" to "respect the constitution".
The NLD has petitioned the constitutional court to change the oath, and Suu Kyi has written to Thein Sein, Myanmar's president, asking him to reword the vow of allegiance.
Suu Kyi, who spent much of the past two decades locked up by the country's military leaders, campaigned in by-elections on a pledge to amend the country's constitution, which was drawn up the country's former government.
Her party won 43 out of 45 seats in the historic by-elections that gave the Nobel Laureate her first seat in parliament.
Sein said on Monday duirng a five-day visit to Japan that he had no plans to change the oath.
The president told reporters in Tokyo he would like to "welcome" Suu Kyi to parliament, but that it was up to her whether or not she took up the seat.
Analysts say the Myanmar president needs the opposition in the parliament, dominated by the military-backed party, to get international legitimacy.
Myanmar's military rulers ceded power to a quasi-civilian government after a November 2010 election marred by opposition complaints of rigging, and won by a party set up by the military.
The new government headed by Sein has released hundreds of political prisoners and introduced a wave of reforms including loosening media controls, allowing trade unions and protests, talks with ethnic minority rebels and sweeping economic changes.
'Sense of betrayal'
Bridget Welsh, associate professor at Singapore Management University, said: "The international community may see this exactly for what this is, and that seems rather petty. It’s about a word and not necessarily on principles.
"Most of the international community recognises that there are much more serious problems facing the country, poverty, development and so forth.
"This could lead to backlash in the international community. Also it could lead to a backlash domestically, because I think it will be very hard to translate it to ordinary people who voted for her, they may feel a sense of betrayal.
"Finally, of course, this could jeopardise the trust relationship that’s been moving the process forward."
The oath is in an appendix to the constitution, and it is unclear whether it can be changed without the approval of 75 per cent of parliament.
The constitution automatically allocates 25 per cent of the parliamentary seats to unelected representatives of the military, and Suu Kyi's party maintains that is undemocratic.
It also bars people from the nation's presidency if they, or any of their relatives, are foreign citizens; that effectively prevents Suu Kyi from ascending to the presidency because she married a British national.
The potential parliamentary impasse comes as Japan announced it would waive about $3.7bn of Myanmar's debt and resume suspended assistance to the country.
The European Union has announced it is suspending most sanctions on the country as a result of its "remarkable" reforms.
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|Timothy V. Gatto|