Burma's parliament opens new session

Parliament building in Naypyitaw More than 1,000 deputies will gather for the session

Parliament has convened in Burma for the first time in more than two decades, following elections late last year.

The first sitting of the two-chambered national parliament brings into effect a new constitution and officially ends nearly 50 years of military rule.

But critics say the real power will remain in the hands of top generals.

A quarter of seats in parliament are reserved for serving members of the armed forces.

The vast majority of contested seats are occupied by members of the Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), which is backed by the current military government.

The main Aung San Suu Kyi-led opposition party has no seats because it boycotted the 7 November election - a poll widely criticised by Western governments and by democracy activists within Burma.

New president

Newly-elected politicians and their newly-appointed military equivalents opened their session in a newly-built parliament in Burma's remote jungle capital, Naypyitaw, at 0855 local time (0225 GMT), a time chosen for its auspiciousness.

Analysis

There is a good deal of uncertainty about precisely what will happen in the new parliament over the next few days or perhaps weeks. Even the new legislators themselves have been kept in the dark.

Each member of parliament has been given a little over $300 (£190) to cover expenses for accommodation and food, leading one to speculate that since the money would last about two months, the parliamentary sitting could go on as long.

The first session is expected to last about two weeks. But since questions have to be tabled and approved 10 days in advance and can be vetoed by the Speaker without appeal, and given that the parliament is dominated by the party backed by the current military government, the chances of independent-minded politicians influencing policy seem slim.

Fourteen regional assemblies also opened at the same time.

Most lawmakers represent the USDP, which won almost 77% of the vote in the election.

There are a handful of pro-democracy lawmakers and representatives of ethnic parties in parliament but the USDP and the military caucus are expected to dominate proceedings.

BBC South East Asia correspondent Rachel Harvey says the first session is expected to last about two weeks.

Shortly after parliament opened, former Culture Minister Khin Aung Myint was named as Speaker of the Upper House.

Thura Shwe Mann - the junta's number three leader who stood down from the military to run in the polls as a civilian - was appointed lower house Speaker.

He had been tipped as a possible candidate for president in the new government - but it remains unclear whether junta leader Than Shwe will seek this position for himself.

Two vice-presidents will also be chosen during the parliament session.

Security is reported to be tight around the parliament building and neither journalists nor diplomats have been invited to attend the opening ceremony.

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