World

Suu Kyi’s party to contest Myanmar by-elections

November 19, 2011

Myanmar democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi talks to members of the National League for Democracy (NLD) in their head office in Yangon on November 18, 2011. ― Reuters picMyanmar democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi talks to members of the National League for Democracy (NLD) in their head office in Yangon on November 18, 2011. ― Reuters picYANGON, Nov 19 ― The party of Myanmar democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi, which boycotted last year’s general election, said today it would contest upcoming by-elections, the latest sign of political rapprochement under a new civilian government.

The 106-member Central Executive Committee of the National League for Democracy (NLD) voted unanimously to register the party, which was officially dissolved last year by the then military regime, and contest the by-elections, it said.

At a meeting to decide whether to re-register, Suu Kyi told members she was in favour of the party contesting the house seats, but she did not say whether she herself was interested in becoming a member of parliament.

“In my opinion, I would like the party to re-register and to run in the by-elections in all the 48 constituencies,” she told the meeting, which was attended by reporters.

No date has been announced for the by-elections but they are expected by the end of the year.

The NLD, Myanmar’s biggest opposition force, won a 1990 election by a landslide but the country’s military refused to cede power and for the following two decade suppressed the party’s activities, putting many of its members in prison.

The party boycotted the next election, held on November 7 last year, because of strict laws that prevented many of its members from taking part. As a result, the authorities officially dissolved it but it has continued to function and enjoys strong support from the public.

Myanmar recently amended a political party law removing a clause barring anyone convicted of a crime from joining a party or taking part in an election, paving the way for those who had served a prison term, including Suu Kyi, to contest the polls.

Suu Kyi, the daughter of late independence hero Aung San and a staunch opponent of the military dictators, spent 15 of the previous 21 years in detention before her release from house arrest a year ago.

Considerable influence

The Nobel Peace Prize laureate commands considerable influence over the party and the unanimous vote supporting her viewpoint was widely expected.

NLD insiders said the party was split on contesting last year’s election but voted unanimously to boycott the polls after Suu Kyi said she “would not dream” of taking part.

The decision to amend the party laws was widely seen as a move to bring the NLD into Myanmar’s new legislative apparatus, which has operated more freely than expected and allowed the kind of public debate that was forbidden under the military.

But even if it wins in all the by-elections, it would still be a minority voice in a parliament dominated by soldiers and proxies of the military, which ruled Myanmar for five decade before the civilian government took office in March.

Ko Ko Hlaing, a senior advisor to President Thein Sein, said on the sidelines of the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) summit in Bali that the NLD’s decision was a “significant step”.

“(Suu Kyi’s) party will be a formidable opposition force in the parliament. That is a very good formula for the democratic system,” he told Reuters today.

“So there are no political forces outside the constitutional framework. So we can work together ... (in a) truly democratic system.”

The presence of Suu Kyi’s party in parliament would be another sign of openness that could give more legitimacy to the retired generals in charge of the country, who are eager to be accepted by the public at home and the international community.

For that same reason, Myanmar lobbied hard for a chance to chair the 10-member ASEAN in 2014, two years ahead of schedule.

Under the leadership of Thein Sein, the government has started a dialogue with Suu Kyi, moves welcomed by the West, which has imposed sanctions on the country because of its poor human rights record.

The government recently released more than 230 political prisoners, eased media censorship and sought guidance from international financial institutions.

Many analysts believe Suu Kyi will not run for a parliamentary seat herself so she can focus on reconciliation and engagement with the government and international community. ― Reuters

 

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