Seminar: Reflections on Myanmar’s Parliament: From Past to Present

Boardroom Law Faculty, Level 2 Kensington, NSW 2031
Thu, 2018-03-15

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This seminar will draw on the speakers's extensive expertise in Myanmar to reflect on the role of its parliament. Burma embarked on a decreed and acquiesced political transition to a “disciplined democracy” in 2010. It was preceded by the 2008 national constitutional referendum. The military ruling body, the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC), declared it as an overwhelming endorsement of their carefully-crafted 2008 constitution. However, the people simply voted for change: change from complete military rule to the promise of something else. They did not embrace the 2008 constitution, neither having seen it nor been included in any deliberations or design.

The nation-wide elections that followed the referendum was boycotted by Aung San Suu Kyi’s Party, the National League for Democracy (NLD), and major Ethnic Nationalities Parties that were formed in 1990, the year the NLD won a nation-wide election in a landslide. The rest is history, as the military dictatorship denied the outcome and systematically gaoled a large number of the Members-Elect of Parliament.

In 2012 the NLD ran in by-elections, again winning in a landslide. That feat was repeated by the NLD in the 2015 general elections. These changes ushered in two parliamentary periods, 2010-2015 and 2015 until the present day. The first parliamentary period was led by the quasi civilian-military party, the USDP. It is now led by the civilian party, the NLD. But there are 25% of seats reserved in Parliament for Armed Forces members, all anointed by the Commander-in-Chief.

This seminar is co-hosted by the Australian-Myanmar Constitutional Democracy Project and the UNSW Institute for Global Development.

Bio of Speaker:

Janelle Saffin has been engaged with both parliaments and will give her accounting of parliamentary developments and parliamentary progress.

Janelle Saffin served in Australian State and Federal Parliaments. She chairs the Australian Labor Party’s International Party Development Committee. anelle maintains a law practice, is a migration agent, a teacher and Timor-Leste and Burma Expert. As Consultant to UNDP Myanmar, she works with the National, State and Region Parliaments. In the Australian Federal Parliament, Janelle was a Whip, a member of the Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade, the Defence sub-committee, Chair of the Trade sub-committee, the powerful Joint House Public Works Committee and an Acting Deputy Speaker. Significantly, Janelle served as Principal Policy Advisor (Political & Legal) to former President, Prime Minister, Minister for Foreign Affairs & Cooperation, and Minister for Defence, H.E. José Ramos-Horta.

Janelle founded the Australia-Myanmar Parliament Group and worked in co-operation with all Myanmar organisations, including the Ethnic Nationalities Organisations. Janelle conducted the first State Constitutional workshop (2001) with all Ethnic Nationalities organisations and advised on drafting State and Federal constitutions in a Federal system. She collaborated with the late Chao Tzang Yanghwe.

As Patron of the Australia-Myanmar Constitutional Democracy Project, she facilitated it as a first to Myanmar, gaining the support of the Pyidaungsu Hluttaw as sponsor (2013). She was a founding Patron of the Australia-Myanmar Chamber of Commerce. Janelle was a Special Policy Adviser to the Prime Minister Hon Kevin Rudd MP and drafted Australia’s policy on Myanmar (“Engagement & Expectations”).

Janelle was Co-Convenor for the Pyidaungsu Hluttaw-UNDP-IPU MPs’ induction programme for nearly 500 MPs in February 2016, conducted under the auspice of the Pyidaungsu Hluttaw and, under the same auspice, led the first ever Human Rights Programme in the Pyidaungsu Hluttaw in 2016. Janelle wrote and conducted professional development programmes called “How to be an MP – What MPs do?” for the SNLD MPs (and others) in Taunggyi and the then ANP (MPs and others) in Nay Pyi Taw and Sittwe.