Next week, the National League for Democracy (NLD), Burma’s leading political party, which has its legitimacy through a landslide victory in the 1990 election, plans to hold a national-level special meeting. The party executive, those NLD members who were successful in the 1990 election, senior members and representatives of the women’s and youth sections of the party from throughout the country have been invited to attend.
In the two decades since the 1990 election, the NLD has been able to hold only two large-scale meetings, once before the country went to the polls and a second in 1997. An attempt to arrange a meeting in August 1998 of members elected in the 1990 poll failed when the junta arrested several who had planned to take part. Restrictions were also placed on members’ travel.
With the memory of August 1998 in mind, NLD members and observers inside and outside the country are anxiously waiting to see how the authorities react to next week’s planned meeting.
According to the invitations to the special meeting sent out earlier this month by the NLD's 91-year-old chairman Aung Shwe, the party's executive committee would read “a paper” to participants. Although the contents of the paper have not been disclosed, it is expected to cover several issues confronting the party—especially the proposed 2010 general election.
The NLD's current position on the 2010 election is to show readiness to negotiate with the Burmese generals if Naypyidaw agrees to review the constitution, which guarantees the continuation of military domination of the country’s political future, and to free the imprisoned members and leaders of the party.
In an Armed Forces Day speech to the nation on March 27, Burma's supremo Snr-Gen Than Shwe rejected the NLD demands, seeing no need for compromise over his so-called "roadmap to democracy." The junta's deputy leader, Vice Snr-Gen Maung Aye, also urged military officers recently to take responsibility for the success of the 2010 election.
According to the election law of 1990, a political party which can not provide candidates for at least three constituencies must disband. This may represent a serious threat if NLD decides to boycott the 2010 elections, and the junta naturally wants to see all opposition groups fall into this trap. Afterward the military will not hesitate to crack down on them, regardless of the reaction of the international community.
The regime won’t have it all its own way, however, if the NLD agrees to participate in the 2010 election. Observers point out that there is no political party other than the NLD that could win a landslide. The regime would be forced to use traditional techniques—physical abuse and harassments of the opposition parties and their supporters; and electoral fraud—in order to block an NLD victory.
In its 20 years’ existence, the NLD has been a frequent target of the regime. Some elected members for parliament have died and some have fled into exile. Party leaders such as Aung San Suu Kyi and Tin Oo have been detained and imprisoned. NLD offices across the country have been closed down, their members harassed and forced to leave the party.
Burma's main opposition party realizes that it must continue to carry out its task of tackling the economic and political problems of the country as a leading political party that still has nationwide influence. It knows that its toughest challenge is to confront a brutal, malicious regime.
But the NLD should also know that it is still an organization which could strike fear into the hearts of heavily armed men.
Nevertheless it must remember that whether or not it agrees to participate in the 2010 election NLD will still represent moral strength for the country’s powerless.