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Burma’s Backward Steps

Backward Steps?


It’s one of the largest parliamentary complexes in the world, a legislature whose colossal size stands in inverse proportion to the actual work that occurs within its marbled halls. Each morning it’s in session, busloads of military brass, who are constitutionally guaranteed one-quarter of the 664 seats, roll up to the complex, its 31 spired buildings representing each plane of Buddhist existence. Then come vehicles filled with civilian MPs, the men outfitted in the jaunty headgear—silk, feathers, the occasional animal pelt—that is mandatory for male MPs not in the military. Among the last to arrive is a private sedan carrying Burma’s most famous lawmaker, democracy heroine Aung San Suu Kyi.

Suu Kyi, who won a 2012 by-election to represent an Irrawaddy delta township, cannot say much in the Assembly of the Union, the official name for the parliament. Nevertheless, she sits with her characteristic upright posture, intent on the proceedings…

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