Key impressed by parliamentary opulence

ANDREA VANCE IN NAYPYITAW
Last updated 05:00 24/11/2012
John Key Myanmar
CHRIS SKELTON/Fairfax NZ

Prime Minister John Key, dwarfed by a painting, meets Speaker of the Lower House Thura U Shwe Mann at the Myanmar Parliament buildings in Naypyitaw.

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With 31 buildings and a gilded Speaker's chair, Myanmar's lavish parliament is fit for . . . well, Lockwood Smith.

Prime Minister John Key toured the expansive Pyidaungsu Hluttaw complex after formal talks with Speaker Thura U Shwe Mann yesterday

"It's incredible. Lockwood would love it. There's an incredible pedestal up front for the Speaker and I think everyone else has to be well behaved," he said.

There are 664 MPs, representing the 60 million population, but a quarter are soldiers, appointed by the commander-in-chief.

They sit on one side of the cavernous chamber, their plain green uniforms in stark contrast to the resplendent colours of local dress. There are 17 different parties.

"Apparently [the soldiers] only really engage on military type debates. The rest of the time they are largely observers, but it is quite striking," Mr Key said.

He also ran into Opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who was being followed by a large press pack.

The complex is approached on a 16-lane highway - eerily empty - and its security precautions include military guards, a moat and two bridges. On either side of the wide road, locals in traditional conical hats crouch, tending shrubs and lawns in the searing heat. The average wage is around 70 cents a day.

The capital was specially created, among rice paddy and sugar cane fields, for the country's administration - and its civil servants work long hours, often returning home at 10pm. Mr Key did manage to squeeze in some golf at a spanking new driving range, close to his hotel.

It is the first civilian government the country has had in 50 years, and Mr Key says "they are learning to cope with it".

Although "vast and impressive", he was non-committal about whether it was over the top.

"It's not for me to judge. They have made the decision they are doing this. For all you can knock, you've got to say there is an open parliamentary process. Twenty-four months ago they didn't have 660 members of Parliament."

President Thein Sein will visit Wellington next month and Mr Key does not think he will want to swap government buildings.

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