Burma’s opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi on Thursday expressed concern over a leadership tussle at the grassroots level of her National League for Democracy, apologizing to constituents for the “disunity” within the country’s top opposition party.
She particularly cited a party rift at the Thone Khwa township in Burma's largest city Rangoon, likening the dispute to an “argument” among family members.
She said it was a “natural occurrence” for any organization, but called on local residents to “correct” the issue through their participation in future elections.
It was believed to be the first time the Nobel laureate had addressed the issue of an “internal problem” within the party in public.
She said the NLD should have an “open relationship with the public,” stressing that dishonesty would lose the party the support it needs as the country undergoes sweeping changes through political and other reforms under President Thein Sein’s nominally civilian government.
“Let me ask you something—and you must answer my questions bravely. Have you heard about disunity in the NLD in Thone Khwa township?” she asked the crowd, which responded that it had.
“I would like to apologize that the NLD in Thone Khwa township has been dealing with internal problems. I also want to tell you not to worry about it, because this is a natural occurrence. Even a family has arguments, so within an organization arguments will happen as well.”
She did not elaborate on the party problem at the township level.
'Right to be heard'
Aung San Suu Kyi said that within a democratic organization, every member has the right to be heard, but that certain people can “misuse free speech for their own interests.”
“We cannot misuse the privilege of having the right to do what we want. Nor can we say whatever we want, even if we have the right to say it,” she said.
“We must think before we speak about whether or not our speech is right.”
The party leader, who won a seat in parliament for the first time in April, told party members that although bickering within the NLD had become public, they needn’t be unduly concerned.
“It is a sad thing that the public knows about the disunity in the NLD. But you should not be worried. The public must be made aware of the situation and feel empowered to amend it,” she said.
“In a democracy, people have the right to make changes within a political party. How do you make such changes? It is through a vote that one can control or make changes within a political party.”
While Aung San Suu Kyi was specifically addressing the situation in the Thone Khwa NLD branch, reports suggest that NLD members from a few other townships have also submitted complaints about local leadership selection.
The NLD is believed to be organizing village and township level meetings ahead of a nationwide conference.
The NLD swept 43 of the 44 seats up for grabs in April by-elections, becoming the biggest opposition party in the military-dominated parliament.
Four of the seats captured by the NLD were in Naypyidaw, the country's capital and bastion of the military and government.
Reported by RFA’s Burmese service. Translated by Win Naing. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.