By WAI MOE
Key members of Burma’s main political opposition party, the National League for Democracy, have gathered in Rangoon—with little harassment from the regime—to discuss the 2010 election issue.
The two-day gathering produced a statement read by party chairman Aung Shwe, outlining the party’s call for an “inclusive” political process in the country’s first nationwide election since 1990.
They core points in the statement were the unconditional release of political prisoners including Aung San Suu Kyi, Shan leader Hkun Htun Oo, Min Ko Naing and Ko Ko Gyi; a review of the new constitution, a genuine dialogue between the junta head Snr-Gen Than Shwe and Suu Kyi and continued dialogue with Burma’s ethnic minorities in “the next phase.”
Interestingly, Aung Shwe recognized the significance of ethnic issues for the future of the nation by saying the country’s problems “can be solved only if ethnic nationalities participate in the political process.”
Speaking to The Irrawaddy, Aye Thar Aung, an Arakanese leader who is allied with the NLD, said, “This time, the meeting is different from the past ones. The NLD headquarters held the meeting because NLD leaders wanted to hear from the party’s grassroots on the forthcoming election and future plans.”
He said the military government was also keen to know the outcome of the meeting. In the past, the regime usually barred delegates from attending party meetings in Rangoon.
On the first day of the two-day meeting, Aung Shwe told party members that the NLD will wait for the regime’s party registration and election laws to be issued before deciding whether to take part in the election.
In his speech on April 28, Aung Shwe did not mention anything about the outcome of the 1990 election, which it has repeatedly called for the junta to honor in past years. However, he indirectly said the parliament committee, under section 3 of the parliament election law of 1990, should review the 2008 constitution.
The NLD’s survival as a viable opposition party was also a main topic of discussion at Rangoon headquarters.
There are ideological differences within the NLD. One debate among members surrounds the older generation of leadership and a younger wing of activists.
Some rebellious younger party members in the youth section argue that the main objective of forming the NLD in 1988 was to bring democracy and positive change to the country, and argue that instead the party has drifted into a “survival” mode.
However, according to some NLD members, the party reversed its survival policy, even before the recent release of Win Tin, a prominent NLD leader. As one example, they note that in 2008, the NLD rejected the junta’s call to withdraw its statements that criticized the 2008 constitution and the constitutional referendum last May.
Party insiders and some senior party members readily acknowledge that the NLD faces a serious challenge as the 2010 election nears, and its effectiveness in rallying the country could determine its survival as a relevant force.
“Yes, the NLD is facing a big dilemma. The junta can ban it for two reasons—one is its position on the coming election and the other is its rejection of the constitution,” Aye Thar Aung said.
Ohn Maung, a veteran politician in Rangoon, said that in the regime’s election laws for the 2010 election, opposition parties would probably have less maneuvering room to campaign than in the 1990 elections.
In the 1990 election law, any party that failed to register in at least three constituencies was automatically abolished by Burma’s election commission.
If there are stricter regulations on political parties in the coming election law, a party will be required to offer candidates in more constituencies than in 1990 and it would need more money to registered as a legal party.
Observers believe that under the new law, a party that fails to register and offer candidates by the regime’s deadline could be abolished as a political organization, which poses a real threat to the NLD’s future.