Democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi is scrambling to rebuild her National League for Democracy ahead of crucial April parliamentary by-elections in which she will participate with other party candidates who are young, educated, and politically experienced, and who represent various ethnic groups, NLD officials say.
After Burma’s Union Election Commission approved the NLD’s registration last week, the opposition party has moved to revive and open new branch offices, reorganize its top brass and accept new member applications.
On Wednesday, Aung San Suu Kyi inaugurated the first reopening of the party’s township office in Bahan in the commercial capital Rangoon, promising nearly 1,000 cheering supporters that she would strive to work for the public and asking them to back the NLD.
“We participate in politics to be able to form the future the way we want to have it, and to be able to do so, we need the people's support," said the 66-year-old Nobel laureate who was released from years of house arrest in November 2010 just after general elections which her party boycotted.
The coming elections will be the biggest political test for the NLD since it last contested in elections in 1990, when it earned an overwhelming victory against the ruling military junta but was prevented from taking power.
In March of last year, the country’s powerful army regime handed the reins over to President Thein Sein, who has since enacted a series of democratic reforms, including establishing dialogue with the NLD and other opposition groups in the country.
The NLD will contest 48 seats in Burma’s Hluttaw, or parliament, on April 1 and many expect Suu Kyi and a number of youthful and diverse candidates in the NLD to win most, if not all of them.
Winning a minority
Exiled Burmese news organization Irrawaddy quoted NLD spokesman Ohn Kyaing as saying that the opposition party had called on its local branches to submit their list of candidates by Wednesday, with the final decision on who will stand to be made the next day.
“Our plan is to have candidates contesting all 48 seats in the by-elections, including Daw Aung San Suu Kyi,” Ohn Kyaing said. “We expect all NLD candidates to be elected.”
But despite all of the excitement surrounding the NLD’s return to the political stage, even a dominating win in the by-elections would give the opposition party only a tiny minority in the legislature.
The parliament consists of 498 elected seats, 80 percent of which are controlled by the ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party. An additional 166 seats are reserved for military officers.
And yet, such a victory would represent a significant change in Burma’s political landscape.
At the very least, observers say, Aung San Suu Kyi’s presence in the parliament might help to sway lawmakers from the military and USDP toward a more democratic path for the country.
Attracting new members
With the Burmese government’s decision to grant Aung Sann Suu Kyi’s party the right to re-register, some members of other opposition groups have left their parties to join the race as NLD candidates.
Phyo Min Thein, a leader of the 88 Generation pro-democracy student movement, said he would join the NLD to run for a constituency in Rangoon division.
“The 88 students will not join the NLD as a group, but rather on an individual basis,” he said.
He said that the 88 Generation student leaders would not challenge the NLD for constituent seats, as many prefer not to take part in the elections while their fellow activists remain in jail as political prisoners.
Phyo Min Thein said that one-third of NLD candidates are members of the younger generation who symbolize new beginnings for the party.
“The NLD said it will give priority to those who are loyal to the democracy movement, are educated and have experience to offer, and are members of ethnic groups, women, and the youth,” he said.
The NLD central executive committee announced on Tuesday that Suu Kyi had been named the new party chairman alongside a reorganized executive committee and patron committee, which now includes aging leaders such as Tin Oo, Win Tin, Than Tun, Hla Pe, and Nyunt Wai.
NLD spokesman Nyan Win said on Tuesday that Aung San Suu Kyi would run for a parliamentary seat representing Kawhmu township, an area well-known as a base for prominent activist Su Su Nway’s work against forced labor.
Su Su Nway, who was released from prison in October last year, traveled to Kawhmu township Wednesday as part of a 15-member NLD campaign committee.
"We visited some villages in Kawhmu township, and I myself went to four villages. [The villagers] said they love ‘Mother Suu’, and they would vote for her, even without a campaign,” Su Su Nway said.
“But they worry that their vote will become null. They don't want their vote to be manipulated like before,” she said, citing the results of the 1990 election.
Reported by RFA’s Burmese service. Translated by Khin May Zaw. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.