Updated at 6:00 p.m. EST on 2013-01-17
Some 500 members and former members of Burma’s National League for Democracy held protests in Ayeyarwady Division Thursday, accusing party authorities of nepotism in selecting a township-level representative for the opposition group’s upcoming nationwide conference, sources said.
The demonstration marked the second time the group in southwest Burma’s Maubin Township, located about 70 kilometers (44 miles) west of Rangoon, had protested over what they labeled as an “unfair selection process” by a commission that they said had acted without consulting local NLD members.
Participants included some former NLD members who had either resigned from the party or who had been expelled last year over infighting with senior level NLD officials from Ayeyarwady Division.
They said that the commission, which was assembled by NLD board members from the Maubin branch headquarters, had sought candidates from within a pool of friends and family members for the nationwide conference which will be held at the end of next month.
Local party members and former members held protests in front of the Maubin NLD office from 9:00 a.m. until 5:00 p.m. on Thursday, sources said, holding signs which read “We don’t want a commission which is abusing human rights in conducting representative selections” and “We don’t want a centralized party system.”
Other signs read “We love the NLD party” and “We love and trust mother Aung San Suu Kyi,” referring to the Nobel laureate and party leader.
Nay Myo, a protest participant, told RFA’s Burmese Service that he was saddened by the disunity of the party at the township level after all of the progress the NLD had made in advancing democratic reforms in Burma leading up to the end of military rule in 2011.
“We were waiting for more than 20 years to be able to hold a national conference for the NLD,” he said, referring to the military government’s prohibition of the party’s activities following 1990 elections in which the NLD swept to victory but was not allowed to take power.
“A party conference should be a celebration that all party members attend with happiness, but now there are protests over the representative selection at the township level. It happened because there was an unfair selection process,” he said.
“The township-level commission authorities are choosing their friends or relatives to attend the conference.”
The group held an earlier protest against the process for selecting conference representatives with about 200 participants on Dec. 28, but received no response from the Maubin party headquarters.
Vow to continue
Protesters on Thursday vowed to continue their actions until the commission agreed to consult with local party members before making a selection.
“We will continue protesting until we get what we want. We don’t care if anything happens [to us] because of our protest,” a female participant told RFA’s Burmese Service.
“We have worked together as a solid unit in the past, but now our unity is broken,” she said.
Another protester said that the group would not rest until the commission is held accountable for their actions.
“If [the commission authorities] act unfairly 100 times, we will protest 100 times,” he said.
The group plans to hold another protest in nearby Yegyi Township on Sunday.
Aye Kyu, Ayeyarwady Division commission chairman, said the group of protesters were simply trying to derail plans for the upcoming national conference.
"The people who are protesting right now were already expelled [or resigned] from the party. They are protesting with the purpose to destroy the NLD's nationwide conference," he said.
"They said that they will protest 100 times if we hold 100 conferences. This kind of behavior is too much."
The NLD struggled with party disunity in October when a group of members from Rangoon's Thone Khwa Township became involved in a leadership tussle Aung San Suu Kyi likened to an "argument" among family members.
“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 at the time.
“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.”
Reported by Ei Ei Khaine for RFA’s Burmese Service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.