In a further blow to executive powers, parliament wrested away authority over appointments to the court. Now, with judicial oversight greatly weakened, critics warn that the legislature in some cases is overplaying its role as a check and balance on executive power.
Given its controversial origins in the much-criticized 2010 election, Burma's parliament has steadily evolved since its inaugural session in early 2011, which dutifully anointed Thein Sein -- the handpicked candidate of outgoing dictator Than Shwe -- as president. The pace picked up after Suu Kyi and her neophyte NLD lawmakers entered parliament last April.
Now, elements of the armed forces and the ruling USDP -- institutions that formed the backbone of the old military regime and still dominate parliament -- are espousing populist lines and backing motions that sometimes run counter to the government they once solidly upheld.
On issues such as foreign investment -- crucial to Burma's reengagement with the West -- a surge of protectionist sentiment has seen parliament water down some relatively liberal provisions of investment and commercial laws. More recently, attempts to delay the government's decision to award two national telecoms licenses to foreign companies suggest clashes ahead over liberalization in that sector.
Yet the so-called conservatives -- including military representatives -- have taken surprisingly liberal positions on certain political and social issues, for example, on pro-worker labor laws and the release of political prisoners.
Central to an emerging reconfiguration of Burma's political scene are the declared presidential ambitions of Aung San Suu Kyi and the powerful speaker of parliament's lower house, Shwe Mann. That became obvious in the opening week of the current parliamentary session in late June, when three events created a sense of crisis within government.
First came an unprecedented attack by Shwe Mann on the government's peace initiatives with ethnic rebel groups. Claiming that the process had "failed to achieve peace," he demanded more parliamentary input -- in words suggested that U Aung Min, a key member of the president's team and a former general, had overstepped his authority in talks with rebel groups. It was the first time that the house speaker, a former general who recently took over the ruling party chairmanship from Thein Sein, had openly criticized the government's approach to peace talks -- not to mention a former army colleague.
In another challenge seemingly aimed more directly at Thein Sein, the speaker also called for the convening of the National Defense and Security Council, a military-dominated body, to back parliament's demand for more involvement in the peace process. The once active council -- which includes the president, both house speakers, and the commander-in-chief among its 11 members -- meets rarely these days, and mainly over urgent security issues.