Aung San Suu Kyi completed her historic journey from political prisoner to parliamentarian on Wednesday, assuming public office for the first time in a risky new strategy to work alongside Myanmar’s new reform-minded government after her 24-year struggle against military rule.
The 66-year-old democracy leader will have almost no power in the assembly, but she will nevertheless have an official voice in the legislative branch and the chance to challenge public policy from inside the halls of power for the first time.
Suu Kyi’s parliamentary debut comes after her National League for Democracy party lost its first major political battle since Myanmar’s April 1 by-election — a bid to change the lawmakers’ oath.
The NLD had refused to take its seats in the assembly last week because they opposed wording in the oath that obliges legislators to “safeguard” the constitution. The party, which has vowed to amend the document because it enshrines military power, wanted the phrasing changed to “respect.”
Their failure to push through even that small change, though, underscores the immense challenges ahead in a nation still dominated by the military.
On Wednesday, Suu Kyi and several dozen of her party brethren chose to compromise for now — jointly reciting the oath in the capital, Naypyitaw, as the ruling party and the army looked on.
Mobbed by reporters after the ceremony, Suu Kyi said she would not give up the struggle she has waged since 1988.
“We have to now work within the Parliament as well as outside as we have been doing all along,” she said.
The legislature itself was installed after a 2010 vote that the NLD boycotted and the international community decried as a sham.
Now, as a parliamentary minority occupying only a few dozen seats, the Suu Kyi-led opposition will have little power to change what it wants to change most — the constitution, which allots 25% of assembly seats to unelected military appointees.