POLITICAL PARTIES IN MYANMAR
Ruling party: Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) is linked with Myanmar’s ruling junta. Formally registered as a party in April 2010, it is headed by Myanmar’s president Thein Sein, who resigned from military post when the party was registered.
Major opposition party: Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy Party (NLD) was founded in October 1988.
Other Political parties and their leaders: 1) All Mon Region Democracy Party (AMRDP), headed by Naing Ngwe Thein; 2) National Democratic Force (NDF), headed by Khin Maung Swe and Dr.Than Nyein; 3) National Unity Party (NUP), headed by Tun Ye; 4) Rakhine Nationalities Development Party (RNDP), headed by Dr. Aye Mg; 5)Shan Nationalities Democratic Party (SNDP), headed by Sai Aike Paung; 6) Shan Nationalities League for Democracy (SNLD), headed by Hkun Htun Oo; numerous smaller parties
Elected delegates in the 1990 People's Assembly election formed the National Coalition Government of the Union of Burma (NCGUB), a government-in-exile since December 1990, with the mission of restoring democracy. Dr. Sein Win, a first cousin of Aung San Suu Kyi, has held the position of prime minister of the NCGUB since its inception. The NCGUB has been outlawed by the military government.
Many other parties, often representing ethnic minorities, exist. The military government allows little room for political organisations and has outlawed many political parties and underground student organisations. Parties that have been allowed to exist such as the National League for Democracy and the Shan Nationalities League for Democracy have had their activities heavily regulated and suppressed by the military government.
The military junta supported the National Unity Party in the 1990 elections and, more recently, an organisation named the Union Solidarity and Development Association. Burma Socialist Programme Party (Lanzin Party) was formed by the Ne Win's military regime that seized power in 1962 and was the sole political party allowed to exist legally in Burma during the period of military rule from 1964 until its demise in the aftermath of the popular uprising of 1988.
Parliament members sometimes cross party lines. U Thant Myint-U, a historian and leading expert on Myanmar, told the New York Times in 2012: “On many key issues people aren’t necessarily voting alone party lines. Party organizations are still relatively weak and few have cear cut ideologies or detailed policy positions.”
Results of 2010 Elections
A total of 168 of the 224 seats in the Amyotha Hluttaw (House of Nationalities) were up for election. The remaining 56 seats (25 percent) were not elected, and instead reserved for military appointees (taken from Defense Services personnel, technically called Army Representatives, AR). [Source: Wikipedia +]
Results for the Amyotha Hluttaw (Party, Seats, Net Gain/Loss, Seats percent, Votes percent, Votes, +/-): 1) Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), the junta-backed party: 129, 57.59; 2) Appointed: 56, +56, 25.00, -, -, +56; 3) Rakhine Nationalities Development Party (RNDP), an ethnic party: 7, 3.13, 263,678; 4) National Unity Party (NUP), a party linked with the military and former dictator Ne Win: 5, 2.23, 4,302,082; 5) National Democratic Force (NDF),formed by members of Aung San Suu Kyi’s NLD: 4, 1.79, 1,488,543; 5) Chin Progressive Party (CPP), an ethnic party: 4, 1.79, 86,211; 6) All Mon Region Democracy Party (AMRDP), an ethnic party: 4, 1.79, 172,806; 7) Shan Nationalities Democratic Party (SNDP), an ethnic party: 3, 1.33, 496,039; 8) Phalon-Sawaw Democratic Party (PSDP): 3, 1.33, 77,825; 9) Chin National Party (CNP): 2, 0.89, 37,450; 10) Others, 7, 3.13. Total, 224, 100. +
A total of 330 of the 440 seats in the Pyithu Hluttaw (House of Representatives) were up for election. The remaining 110 seats (25 percent) were not elected, and instead reserved for military appointees (taken from Defense Services personnel, technically called Army Representatives (AR). +
Results for the Pyithu Hluttaw Party (Seats, Net Gain/Loss, Seats percent, Votes percent, Votes, +/-): 1) 1) Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), the junta-backed party: 259, 58.86, 56.76, 11,858,125; 2) Appointed: 110, +110, 25.00, -, -, +110; 3) Shan Nationalities Democratic Party (SNDP), an ethnic party: 18, 4.09, 2.44, 508,780; 4) National Unity Party (NUP), a party linked with the military and former dictator Ne Win: 12, 2.73, 19.44, 4,060,802; 5) Rakhine Nationalities Development Party (RNDP), an ethnic party: 9, 2.05, 2.87, 599,008; 6) National Democratic Force (NDF), formed by members of Aung San Suu Kyi’s NLD: 8, 1.82, 7.10, 1,483,329; 7) All Mon Region Democracy Party (AMRDP), an ethnic party: 3, 0.68, 0.80, 167,928; 8) Pa-Oh National Organisation (PNO): 3, 0.68; 9) Chin National Party (CNP): 2, 0.45, 0.17, 36,098; 10) Chin Progressive Party (CPP), an ethnic party: 2, 0.45, 0.36, 76,463; 11) Phalon-Sawaw Democratic Party (PSDP): 2, 0.45, 0.39, 82,038; 12) Wa Democratic Party (WDP), an ethnic party: 2, 0.45, 0.13, 27,546; 13) Others, 10, 2.29, 9.54, 1,992,590. Total, 440, 100, 100, 20,892,707. +
AFP reported: “The Myanmar military's political proxy claimed an overwhelming victory. "We have won about 80 percent of the seats. We are glad," said a senior USDP member who did not want to be named. The vote appeared to have gone largely according to the junta's plans. In many constituencies the poll was a two-way battle between the USDP and the National Unity Party (NUP), which is the successor to late dictator Ne Win's party and also closely aligned with the military. [Source: AFP, November 9 2010]
Reuters reported: “Stacked with recently retired generals and closely aligned with the 77-year-old paramount leader, Senior General Than Shwe, the USDP took as many as 80 percent of the available seats for parliament, a senior party official told Reuters. But Khin Maung Swe, the leader of the largest opposition party, the National Democratic Force, told Reuters: "We took the lead at the beginning but the USDP later came up with so-called advance votes and that changed the results completely, so we lost." The second-largest pro-democracy party, the Democratic Party (Burma), also conceded defeat. "I admit defeat but it was not fair play. It was full of malpractice and fraud and we will try to expose them and tell the people," said the party leader, Thu Wai. At least six parties have lodged complaints with the election commission, accusing the USDP of fraud – a charge that is unlikely to gain traction in a country where more than 2,100 political activists are in jail. [Source: Reuters, November 9, 2010]
National League for Democracy Party
The National League for Democracy Party (NLD) is the main opposition party. It was founded in October 1988. Aung San Suu Kyi has been its nominal head since 1988. The NLP was never officially outlawed. Yet over the years Myanmar’s military regime has done its best to suppress it. The NLP once had 500 offices. There were about 50 when Aung San Suu Kyi was released from house arrest in 2002.The symbol of the NLD is the fighting peacock. A flag with this symbol has been unfurled at Shwedagon Pagoda.
The NLP has its headquarters in a grubby, sweltering concrete office in Yangon that didn’t have an air conditioner until 2002. Describing the activities in office at that time, Peter Popham wrote in the Independent, “A woman in the corner is going full pelt with a treadle sewing machine, running up party flags; at the fare end a free English lesson is in progress...Party members scoop drinking water out of a cauldron that sits on a tripod behind a column. The librarian marshals her small, battered collection of books.
Many NLD members have spent some time in jail. Some are still in jail. Occasionally the road to the headquarters is blocked by the government. Members are watched by informers. Tim Oo is widely regarded as the second most important member of the NLP after Aung San Suu Kyi. He is the Party Vice Chairman. He was imprisoned for a long time at a military camp. He was released in January 2001. U Lwin is secretary of the NLP. The majority of the small inner circle around Aung San Suu Kyi are former military officers and associates or followers of her father Aung San. Both the regime and its leading opponents therefore form a small political elite.
History of the National League for Democracy Party
Erika Kinetz and Aye Aye Win of Associated Press wrote: “The NLD was founded in the wake of Myanmar's thwarted 1988 popular uprising, when students, monks and ordinary citizens swarmed the streets demanding political change. The country's military junta cracked down, killing several thousand and successfully stalling the momentum of revolution. It was then that Aung San Suu Kyi's political career — and the National League for Democracy — were born. Within two months of its founding, the NLD began planning a nationwide congress to elect leaders, but they were only able to hold a few township elections."Then all of us were sent to jail and kept there for a long time," said Win Tin, 83, a journalist and NLD founder. [Source: Erika Kinetz and Aye Aye Win, Associated Press, March 8, 2013 <>]
“The very night Suu Kyi was released from house arrest in November 2010, NLD leaders met with her to discuss how to reinvigorate the party, Win Tin said. The NLD re-registered as a political party in January 2012, swept parliamentary by-elections in April, and by June had begun convening more than 17,000 elections to select local representatives and delegates for the all-party congress. <>
Joshua Hammer wrote in The New Yorker, “The headquarters of the National League for Democracy...is a crumbling two-story cinder-block building, with peeling green paint, exposed electrical wires, and tattered posters of Che Guevara, Aung San Suu Kyi, and her father, Aung San. [Source: Joshua Hammer, The New Yorker, January 24, 2011]
According to Associated Press: “These days, the tables outside the NLD's Yangon headquarters are littered with the junk of celebrity. There are Suu Kyi mugs, key chains, postcards, posters, photos, pins, fans and even a few corporate day planners. All are for sale. Inside, the tight, two-story space is plastered with her image — ever beautiful and poised — and that of her father, Gen. Aung San, who is regarded as the founder of independent Myanmar. One could be forgiven for mistaking the place as a shrine, except for the general dishevelment and buzz of activity. <>
NLD, Democracy and an Aung San Suu Kyi Personality Cult?
Erika Kinetz and Aye Aye Win of Associated Press wrote: “ The structure of democracy is one thing, its culture another. Most members of the NLD, like the people of Myanmar itself, understand the contours of democracy only through its absence. This lack of a developed political culture, some party members say, contributed to infighting and irregularities that marred some of the local elections. [Source: Erika Kinetz and Aye Aye Win, Associated Press, March 8, 2013 <>]
“The years of repression and Suu Kyi's iconic stature — she is greeted by villagers with cries of "Long live mother!" — have also centralized decision-making, which critics say is bad for the broader project of democracy and could weaken the NLD's appeal. "All the party decisions are dependent on just Daw Aung San Suu Kyi," said Yan Myo Thein, a 43-year-old former student activist and political analyst, who is not a member of the NLD. "This is bad for the future of the country and the country's reforms. If the party goes on like this, the support of the people on NLD will waver." <>
“As Suu Kyi sinks deeper into the scrum of real politics, however, the glow of idealism that has sustained her leadership is fading. She has been criticized by the international community for not taking a stronger stance against religious and ethnic violence in western Rakhine state and lambasted for allowing the NLD to accept donations from blacklisted "crony" businessmen. Her conciliatory embrace of Myanmar's erstwhile villains may be a sign of deeper compromises to come. "Now she's giving blessings to the army," Win Tin said. "The army is a very bad element in the country. They have done very bad things." <>
“Even Win Tin, who spent nearly 20 years as a political prisoner, recognizes the strategic importance of getting along with the military, which still dominates the country's institutional life. Myanmar's military maintained its own elite academies, even as the ruling generals debilitated the public education system, fearing waves of student revolt. Many ambitious young people saw the military as one of few paths to a secure future. Today, the military has the education, the expertise and 25 percent of the seats in parliament. <>
“Suu Kyi knows she, the daughter of the country's most famous general, must win their trust if she is to become president in 2015. This is not merely a matter of governance. Myanmar's constitution would have to be amended for Suu Kyi — the wife of a foreign national — to take office, and for that to happen, she needs the support of more than 75 percent of parliament. <>
“Tin Oo, an old military man himself, believes the NLD needs a strong leader to tackle their formidable opponents from the ruling party, men who come from the military and understand the power of hierarchy and loyalty. "To whom we are to encounter? The military men. That is why we must keep strong and surround her," he said, pounding his fist on the table. "We are going to create a strong party around her."He believes in Aung San Suu Kyi as an enduring idea that can sustain the party even in her absence. "We were never a personality cult," he said. "Even if she dies, the tradition and heritage remain." Others aren't so sure. <>
Myanmar Opposition Holds First Party Congress
In March 2013, members of Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy (NLD) party gathered for their first ever congress. Erika Kinetz and Aye Aye Win of Associated Press wrote: “It is a party dominated by a single strong leader. Top positions are made by appointment. Decision-making is quiet and circumscribed. That party is not Myanmar's ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party, which grew out of decades of military dictatorship. It is the National League for Democracy, led by democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi and currently the country's best hope for building a viable political opposition after half a century of authoritarian rule. The NLD is holding an all-party congress to elect its own leadership for the first time in the group's 25-year history— an important step toward making it more reflective of its democratic ideals. It is a sign of how far Myanmar has come with political reform that the gathering is allowed at all. But it's also a test for the NLD, which is working to transform itself from a party of one into a structurally viable political opposition in time for national elections in 2015.[Source: Erika Kinetz and Aye Aye Win, Associated Press, March 8, 2013]
"Our party must be renewed and reformed," said Tin Oo, who is overseeing the organization of the congress. "We are going to advocate for democracy, so our party must be based on democratization." The renewal began as nearly 900 NLD representatives from across the country gathered at a restaurant in Myanmar's main city, Yangon, where the three-day congress is being held. Above them, red NLD party flags, decorated with golden fighting peacocks, fluttered in the early light. The mood was ebullient. "I am very excited to be here," said Nan, a 46-year-old woman from a ruby-rich area of the northern Mandalay region who goes by one name. "We hope to see the NLD transform into a more democratic structure, in line with the changes taking place in the country."
Forged under authoritarian rule, the NLD has been, in some ways, a mirror image of the country's ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party. Unable to convene party meetings, with its leaders often jailed and the party itself officially banned for much of its existence, the NLD could not hold elections. Leaders had to be appointed. Secret and summary decisions had to be made. And in the unforgiving narrative of repression that has long governed Myanmar, there were heroes who were not to be questioned any more than the villains they fought.
Tin Oo is aware that he himself stands as evidence of the urgent need to groom a new generation of leaders for the party, whose top ranks include men who are quite literally toothless. An energetic 86-year-old, Tin Oo is one of three surviving founders of the party. But the effort to inject fresh blood and expertise and bring more ethnic minorities and women into leadership positions has also brought conflict. Some longstanding members of the NLD — many of whom made enormous sacrifices while less courageous souls stayed out of politics — now feel supplanted. "We try our best to balance the old and the new," Tin Oo said. "But there are quite a lot of quarrels."
AFP reported: “Although hugely popular in Myanmar some experts question whether the NLD is ready to run an impoverished nation whose economy, education and health systems were left in tatters by the corrupt former junta. The party is expected to win national elections in 2015, if they are free and fair. But experts say it must first salve internal divisions which again flared ahead of the conference as four members were banned from attending, accused of trying to influence the voting. [Source: AFP, March 9, 2013<><>]
Aung San Suu Kyi called for her party to unify amid concerns that internal squabbles could undermine its push for power at historic polls in 2015. Speaking at the first ever congress of her popular but politically callow National League for Democracy (NLD) party, Suu Kyi urged a revival of the "spirit of fraternity" which saw it build a huge base during iron-fisted junta rule. But she acknowledged "there was some fighting" within the party, something analysts attribute to the reluctance of an elderly cabal of senior advisors -- veterans of the democracy struggle to give way to an eager younger generation. "We have to act with restraint" the Nobel Laureate, who is expected to be re-elected as party chairman today, said urging delegates not to fight over positions. "The spirit of fraternity is very important. We have been strong in the past because of this spirit." <><>
National League for Democracy Tactics
Joshua Hammer wrote in The New Yorker, The Burmese historian “Thant Myint-U told me that the democracy movement under Aung San Suu Kyi’s leadership had made miscalculations in its dealings with the dictatorship during the past two decades. In the mid-nineteen-nineties, after releasing Aung San Suu Kyi for the first time, the regime indicated a willingness to negotiate, but Thant Myint-U believes that the N.L.D.’s insistence on the full implementation of the annulled 1990 election results doomed any hope of progress. “It was entirely unrealistic,” he said. After that, the regime became less and less willing to compromise. The opposition’s biggest mistake, he said, was its belief that “help from the West—through a mix of sanctions and diplomacy—would somehow force the regime to bargain.” [Source: Joshua Hammer, The New Yorker, January 24, 2011 **]
“Aung San Suu Kyi’s critics fear that she and the rest of the N.L.D.’s Old Guard remain wedded to traditional forms of protest—hunger strikes, demonstrations, election boycotts, calls for more sanctions—that are ineffective in a world where China is happy to do business with countries that manifest little or no concern for human rights. “There is a huge overreliance and overestimation of how much the outside world can help,” Thant Myint-U said. “I wouldn’t say the regime is afraid of her.” They would be scared of “any movement that would consolidate a grassroots following,” he said. “But the N.L.D. is not that anymore.” **
Problems and Divisions at the National League for Democracy Party
The Washington Post reported: “Some activists express impatience with what they call the largely passive policies of the National League for Democracy...From its closely watched headquarters in downtown Rangoon, a clutter of dusty wooden desks and chairs, the league is led by three octogenarians whom many people here call the "uncles." The men oversee the party. One woman who is active in the new opposition said she thinks that "the NLD has lost the trust of the people. They have been issuing many announcements, that the government must do this. But the government has not, and anyone who gets involved with the NLD gets in trouble." [Source: Washington Post, July 20, 2008]
Hannah Beech wrote in Time magazine: “The most immediate revolution is needed within Suu Kyi's party. Ever since the unfair outcome of the 1990 elections, the NLD has been stuck in a time warp, endlessly arguing over arcane policy and political theory even as many of its leaders get grayer and more stooped. There is a strange parallel between Burma's geriatric opposition leaders, known as the Uncles, and the junta's clutch of aged generals. In a 2008 cable released by WikiLeaks, an American diplomat in Rangoon bemoaned, "The way the Uncles run the NLD indicates the party is not the last great hope for democracy and Burma." Since then, a leadership reshuffle has reinvigorated the party to a certain extent, and Suu Kyi's release has galvanized a new generation of political youth. But it's no wonder that a younger NLD faction called the National Democratic Force defied the NLD's (and Suu Kyi's) call for an electoral boycott and contested the November polls. Suu Kyi says she's not worried about a possible split in the opposition. "We are all fighting for democracy," she says. "Our goals are the same." [Source: Hannah Beech, Time, December 29, 2010 =]
The political landscape, too, has shifted. Although Suu Kyi is still revered, as proven by the crowds that have thronged her since her release, the political opposition that once coalesced around her has begun to fracture. In the run-up to the Nov. 7 elections, the NLD, at Suu Kyi's request, chose to boycott a poll that was clearly stacked in the generals' favor — down to a constitutional clause that precludes anyone ever married to a foreigner from holding high public office. But a breakaway faction called the National Democratic Force (NDF) appeared to question Suu Kyi's uncompromising stance and did contend in the elections, along with dozens of other opposition parties, many of which represent Burma's patchwork of ethnic minorities. Because of rampant vote rigging, the opposition won fewer parliamentary seats than it probably should have. The NDF, for instance, captured only 16 of the 163 seats it contested, while the military's USDP claimed more than 80 percent of the vote. But even with just a small fraction of parliament, a legal democratic opposition now exists that is distinct from Suu Kyi and her NLD. "Of course, we are very much happy to hear about [Suu Kyi's] release," says Khin Maung Swe, a leader of the NDF. "But I don't think she should take a formal political position in the NLD. She should be a sort of statesman, a democratic icon for Myanmar who brings all sides together for national reconciliation." =
Aung San Suu Kyi and Divisions in the National League for Democracy Party
Joshua Hammer wrote in The New Yorker: “Aung San Suu Kyi’s decision to boycott the 2010 election splintered the party; a breakaway group, the National Democratic Front, participated in the vote. “We haven’t been in a comfortable political space for twenty years, so, though the space is narrow, we must try to set a foot in this space,” Khin Maung Swe, now a leader of the N.D.F., told me. The election campaign left deep bitterness. “Her people attacked us vehemently,” Khin Maung Swe said. “They branded us as ‘traitors,’ and were more aggressive than the U.S.D.P. itself. This is one of the reasons that we feel so bitter.” [Source: Joshua Hammer, The New Yorker, January 24, 2011 >>]
“Aung San Suu Kyi turned petulant when I asked her about the bad feelings between the groups. She said of the N.D.F., “They expelled one member of their party, and I understand that this member has been accusing them of having received illegal funds. I think they should really see to that rather than talk about the bitterness on the part of members of the N.L.D.” >>
“She rolled her eyes when I asked her about N.D.F. leaders’ call to the West to lift broad-based economic sanctions because, according to them, the sanctions haven’t hurt the regime. “How do they know that the sanctions have not been effective, have not prevented certain things from taking place?” she said with exasperation. “It’s not a transparent regime, so that we do not know what is really going on. . . . But the effect has to be studied,” she conceded. “We keep an open mind.” She also became annoyed when I asked her about a dispatch from the United States Embassy in Rangoon, published by WikiLeaks, that criticized the “sclerotic leadership” of the N.L.D. and the failure of the party to galvanize the young. “I think the party is stronger now than it’s been in a long time,” she insisted. An Agence France-Presse article had distorted her comments on the matter, she said. “They just gave prominence to my saying we’re not going to get rid of the older leaders,” and ignored her saying that “the younger ones are taking over the practical part of the work.” >>
NLD’s Symbol: The Fighting Peacock
The symbol of the NLD is the fighting peacock. A flag with this symbol has been unfurled at Shwedagon Pagoda. In December 2011, AFP reported: The NLD said it “has chosen the image of a fighting peacock gazing at a white star as its new voting emblem, as it prepares to re-enter the political fray. The image, which is similar to the party's flag and will be its official insignia at the ballot box, is a symbol of the country's struggle for change, said Win Htein, a senior member of the National League for Democracy (NLD). "In our new seal, the white star represents the revolution. It was used many years ago as revolutionary symbol," he told AFP. [Source: AFP, December 12, 2011]
The announcement was aired in state-run media in an unusual concession by Myanmar's army-dominated government. The NLD has accepted an invitation to rejoin the political mainstream and applied in November to re-register as a political party. Win Htein said the peacock was chosen in a homage to student protesters involved in the country's 1988 rallies against the military which were brutally crushed by the then ruling junta. "Students demonstrated against the government under the fighting peacock symbol during the 1988 democracy uprising. So we used this image to acknowledge the struggle of students," he told AFP. At least 3,000 people were killed in the crackdown, and many democracy activists including Suu Kyi were later locked up. Some student leaders remain in prison.
The NLD's new symbol replaces its well-known bamboo hat trademark, which was used by a breakaway group that participated in the much-criticised 2010 election. "Because we do not want voters to be confused by the bamboo hat seal in the future, we hereby announce that it is totally not concerned with the National League for Democracy," the NLD's statement in the Myanmar Ahlin newspaper said.
Party emblems are used in Myanmar as a visual marker for voters unable to read and the hat image was particularly popular with rice farmers, who use similar head wear while tending their fields, in the NLD's 1990 election campaign. Suu Kyi's party won that poll, but was never allowed to take power and its insignia became a source of bitter contention during the run-up to last year's vote.The NLD refused to participate in the November election -- the first in two decades -- because of rules that appeared designed to exclude the Nobel laureate. Its boycott led to a splinter group forming a new party, the National Democratic Force (NDF), which appropriated the hat sign. The NDF now has a handful of seats in the new parliament and continues to use the symbol, despite complaints by Suu Kyi's party.
NLD Shakes Up Leadership
In March 2013, Associated Press reported: “Aung San Suu Kyi has been elected head of the new executive board of Myanmar’s opposition National League for Democracy, as the party has a makeover to adjust itself to the country’s new democratic framework. A landmark three-day party congress attended by 894 delegates from around the country expanded the group’s Central Executive Committee from seven members to 15, with an addition five reserve members, in a revitalization and reform effort ahead of the 2015 general election. Suu Kyi is the sole holdover from the party’s original executive board when it was founded in 1988 but the other new members are also mostly long-serving party loyalists. [Source: Associated Press, March 10, 2013]
A day earlier, Associated Press reported: “Aung San Suu Kyi vowed to inject new blood into her party and urged members to rise above petty differences as they elect new leadership for the first time in the 25-year history of the National League for Democracy. "Choose leaders without any personal grudge," she told the assembled crowd of more than 1,000 delegates and guests. "Don't think of yourself. Don't think of your friends. Have firm policies and conviction and the courage to sacrifice, if you want to claim yourself a politician." The three-day NLD congress is an important step toward making the party more reflective of its democratic ideals” and “a test for the NLD, which is working to transform itself from a party of one into a structurally viable political opposition. [Source: AP, March 9, 2013]
That transformation has not come without conflict, as the party struggles to infuse its ranks with new faces, expertise and diversity without sidelining long-standing members. Suu Kyi said it was important to learn from past weaknesses and vowed to decentralize decision-making and inject the leadership with "new blood." "The NLD has been accused of using centralized systems. It is partly true because we were unable to operate freely," she said. "But the situation has changed."
The congress elected seven members, including Suu Kyi, to its top leadership body, the central executive committee. All come from the ranks of party faithful and most are in their late 60s. The NLD plans to elect around a dozen more members to the body. They have also elected 100 of a planned 150 members to the party's second-line central committee.
NLD Breakaway Party: the National Democratic Force
In 2010, before the elections, some senior members of the NLD formed a new party—the National Democratic Force—to contest the elections, claiming that a NLD boycott would play into the hands of the government. “Suu Kyi has expressed dissatisfaction through her lawyer over the formation of the new breakaway party, led by Khin Maung Swe. Members of her disbanded party have accused the National Democratic Force of stealing their party symbol, a bamboo hat, in order to win votes. Khin Maung Swe said the NDF's symbol is not the same because it has two stars above the hat. He said the party will continue the "struggle for democracy." [Source: AP, July 10, 2010 +++]
News agencies reported: “Khin Mau Swe, a leading member of the NLD said that the new party would try and complete the NLD's unfinished duty by keeping its faith with the NLD and Suu Kyi. According to Khin the new party is going to be called the National Democratic Force. The NLD leaders made their decision after their party was declared illegal according to the election law. Nyan Win, spokesperson for the NLD has meanwhile urged the founders of the new party to desist from participating in the elections. He also said that the former members of the NLD will continue to operate from party headquarters. Some members are focusing on social and developmental work.[Source: Reuters, AFP, AP, May 7, 2010]
The creation of a new political party has now raised doubts about unity in Myanmar's biggest opposition movement. Aung Naing Oo, a Burmese Academic based in Thailand says that the hardliners and the moderates in the NLD may undermine each other. According to Trevor Willis, former Australian Ambassador to Myanmar, people put their hopes on the NLD and Aung San Suu Kyi when the party was active. Now with the party disbanded, people have no one to look up to. The NLD decided to boycott the elections.
Min Ko Naing
Min Ko Naing is a leading democracy activist and dissident. A leader of the pro-democracy protests in 1988 and 2007, he spent much of the 1990s and 2000s as a political prisoner in solitary confinement. He was released in January 2012. The New York Times has described him as Burma's "most influential opposition figure after Daw Aung San Suu Kyi". He is the President of Universities Student Union of Burma and a founder of the 88 Generation Students Group.
Min Ko Naing’s real name is Paw Oo Tun. Min Ko Naing is an alias meaning "conqueror of kings". He was born in Yangon in 1962, the third son of Thet Nyunt and Hla Kyi, a Mon-Chinese couple from Mudon in Mon State. His interest in politics began at the Rangoon Arts and Science University in the mid-1980s where he studied Zoology. During his student years, he performed in theatrical troupe named "Goat-Mouth and Spirit-Eye" that performed satirical plays and sketches satirizing Burma's military government and the lack of freedom and democracy. Though the troupe was popular, it also attracted the attention of Burmese Military Intelligence agents, who began to track Min Ko Naing's movements. Despite the illegality of forming student unions in Burma, Min Ko Naing and other students formed clandestine study groups to discuss Burma's political situation, which grew into a secret student union. [Source: Wikipedia +]
Forced to go underground, Min Ko Naing continued his organizing work while moving from house to house every night to avoid arrest. After several months, he was captured along with other students and imprisoned in 1989. He was sentenced to 20 years' imprisonment, a sentence commuted to 10 years under a general amnesty in January 1993. According to Amnesty International, Min Ko Naing was severely tortured and ill-treated during the early stages of his detention. His health suffered as a consequence. During his interrogation he was reportedly forced to stand in water for two weeks until he collapsed, and as a result, his left foot became totally numb. In 19 November 2004, he was released from prison, after being imprisoned for 15 years. He was rearrested in September 2006 and released in January 2007.
Min Ko Naing helped to found the 88 Generation Students Group and was involved in protests that preceded the Saffron Revolution protests in 2007. He was arrested again in August 2007 after the first protests that grew into the Saffron Revolution protests along other 13 leaders of the 88 Generation Students. In November 2008 Min Ko Naing was sentenced to 65 years imprisonment for his role in the August 2007 demonstrations. He spent much of that stint in prison at Kengtung prison in Shan State in solitary confinement. He was released along with numerous other activists in January 2012, as part of a mass presidential pardon for political activists.
Min Ko Naing has won numerous international awards for his activism, including the Gwangju Prize for Human Rights (2009), Civil Courage Prize (2005) and John Humphrey Freedom Award (1999) In 2012, he was announced the winner of an award from the US National Endowment for Democracy. After he was released from prison in 2004 after 15 years of confinement he said, "I feel as if I have awoken from dreamland and I've just started to open my eyes. I will never lose sight of my original goal. National reconciliation is essential for any country. All the parties concerned must be really desirous of it and sincere, too."
Tin Oo is a key pro-democracy leader and Vice Chairman of the National League for Democracy (NLD, Aung San Suu Kyi’s party). He spent three years in prison after helping to found the NLD in 1988 and was been either in prison or under house arrest after he was detained along with Ms Suu Kyi in 2003. A former defense minister and commander in chief of the armed forces of Union of Myanmar, he was highly decorated soldier and general who was forced into retirement in 1976 and later sentenced to hard labour for treason.
General Thura Tin Oo—Tin Oo—was born in 1927 in Pathein. He joined the army in 1946 as a Second Lieutenant in Burma Rifle Battalion. He was promoted to Lieutenant Colonel in 1954 and became Commander of 4th Infantry Brigade in 1957. From 1958 and 1961, Lieutenant Colonel Tin Oo served as a commander for several infantry battalions and brigades. In 1964, he became Commander of Central Regional Military Command. In 1972, he was promoted to the rank of Brigadier General and became Deputy Chief of Staff. In 1974 he was promoted to the rank of General and became Commander in Chief of Tatmadaw. He was armed forces Comannder in Chief during the bloody crackdown on student protests surrounding the funeral of former U.N. Secretary Genral U Thant. During his military career, General Tin Oo was awarded with Thuya medal, prestigious award for gallantry and bravery in the face of the enemy. He led both tactical and strategic campaigns against the Karen National Union as well as the Communist Party of Burma and various ethnic armed groups, especially in the north and east of the country. [Source: Wikipedia +]
In March 1976, Tin Oo was forced to retire from his position as Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces of Burma. According to the official government explanation he was forced out because his wife accepted bribes. After his forced retirement, he was accused of high treasons against the armed forces (Tatmadaw), the party (BSPP) and the state. He was subsequently arrested and tried for the alleged withholding of information concerning a failed coup-d'état against General Ne Win and the Council of State. He was sentenced to seven years hard labour and imprisoned in 1977. After being released under general amnesty in 1980, he studied and received a degree in Law. +
In September 1988, Tin Oo became the Vice Chairman of the National League for Democracy (NLD) and three months later was named Chairman of NLD. In July 1989 he was put under house arrest and imprisoned for three years starting in December 1989. In May 2003, Tin Oo, was traveling with Aung San Suu Kyi when her caravan was attacked in the northern village of Depayin by a government-sponsored mob, murdering and wounding many of his supporters. Tin Oo was taken into detention along with Aung San Suu Kyi and was initially held in prison in Kalay in northwestern Myanmar. In February 2004 he was brought back to his home in Yangon and placed under house arrest. He was released from house arrest in February 2010.
Win Tin is a widely respected writer and dissident who spent almost two decades in prison to emerge as both an ally and critic of Aung San Suu Kyi. Simon Denyer wrote in the Washington Post, “While Aung San Suu Kyi was kept under house arrest, her deputy Win Tin was condemned to solitary confinement in prison, denied even pen and paper by his jailers. When she was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for her attempts to bring democracy to Burma, he was comparatively forgotten by the outside world. But today, 83-year-old Win Tin is out of jail, free to write a weekly column and broadcast a weekly radio show, using satire to mercilessly mock the government, the military and their business allies. And, as Suu Kyi charts a course of compromise with the army, he is also one of the few people in Burma who commands enough respect that he can criticize her and get away with it. [Source: Simon Denyer, Washington Post, March 12, 2013 ~~]
“Some of us would like to push the military into the Bay of Bengal,” he said with a smile. “She only wants to push them into Kandawgyi Lake,” a reference to a lake in the heart of Rangoon, the former capital. With this kind of uncompromising talk, Win Tin is a symbol of the extraordinary freedom — especially the freedom of speech and freedom from fear — that has come to Burma in the past few years. But he is also a prominent reminder that reform is only in its early stages, and that Burma is still a long way from becoming a full democracy and ending decades of military dictatorship. ~~
“More than four years after he was released from prison, Win Tin is still wearing a blue shirt, the color of his prison uniform, and says he will not wear any other color until every political prisoner in his country is free. His shirt also showcases his feelings about the broader changes that have yet to take place in Burma, a country renamed Myanmar by its military rulers. “Although I am a free man, I feel my whole country is still in jail,” he said. “There are no great prison walls, but we are still in chains.” ~~
“One of Burma’s leading journalists and writers, Win Tin spent decades struggling against the military regime and the growing censorship it imposed. He moved into politics when he helped launch a new political party, the National League for Democracy, with Suu Kyi after the 1988 protests. She and other NLD leaders nicknamed him Saya, which means “The Wise One.” ~~
Win Tin’s Long Imprisonment and Release from Prison
Simon Denyer wrote in the Washington Post, “While Aung San Suu Kyi was confined to her home and kept away from her family for most of the period between 1989 to 2010, he was confined to a tiny prison cell — tortured, he said, through sleep deprivation and denied adequate medical treatment for a heart condition....Win Tin recalls smuggling fragments of brick into his cell during his long incarceration, grinding them into an orange paste and using the paste to write poems and political thoughts on his cell walls, just to stay sane. Time and again, the military offered to release him if he would promise to renounce politics, but every time he refused. [Source: Simon Denyer, Washington Post, March 12, 2013 ~~]
Win Tin was arrested in July 1989 and sentenced to jail for giving shelter to a girl thought to have received an illegal abortion. While inside, he received additional punishment for agitating against the military government and distributing propaganda, bringing his total sentence to 20 years.
Upon his release in 2008, Reuters reported: “Myanmar’s longest-serving political prisoner, journalist Win Tin, was freed Tuesday after 19 years in jail and immediately vowed to continue his struggle against 46 years of unbroken military rule. “I will keep fighting until the emergence of democracy in this country,” he told reporters outside a friend’s house in the former Burma’s main city, Yangon. He was still wearing his light-blue prison clothes. He was released on the same day that 9,002 prisoners were set free, but said he had complained to prison officials about being lumped in as part of a nationwide amnesty for ordinary criminals getting out on good behaviour. In protest, he refused to pick up his personal belongings or change into civilian clothes. “I did not accept their terms for the amnesty. I refused to be one of 9,002,” he said, adding that no conditions had been attached to his release. “Far from it. They should have released me five years ago. They owe me a few years,” he said. He also played down worries about his health, cited as another reason for his release. “I am quite OK. I am quite all right,” he said. [Source: Reuters, February 23, 2008 #]
“Human rights groups had feared his health was in decline. A year ago, Win Tin himself was musing about dying behind bars. “Will death be my release? As long as democracy and human rights are not within reach, I decline my release. I am prepared to stay,” he wrote in a short poem handed to visiting United Nations human rights envoy Paulo Sergio Pinheiro. London-based Amnesty researcher Benjamin Zawacki said the generals may have decided to release Win Tin for fear that his death in custody could have stoked unrest only a year after major anti-junta protests led by the revered Buddhist monkhood. “Maybe they thought it was better, on balance, to have Win Tin on the outside in case he passes away rather than have him die on their watch, so to speak,” Zawacki said. #
Win Tin’s Relations with Aung San Suu Kyi
Simon Denyer wrote in the Washington Post, After his release from prison in 2008 Win Tin “campaigned tirelessly for Suu Kyi’s release from house arrest; when she was briefly jailed in 2009 for violating the terms of her detention, he kept up a vigil outside the prison. Since she was finally freed in 2010, the pair have, however, found themselves drifting apart. While she advocated conciliation with the military, he took a harder-line approach.[Source: Simon Denyer, Washington Post, March 12, 2013 ~~]
“Their different experiences over the past two decades may have shaped their differing attitudes toward the military now, he said. “She thinks she can persuade all the military leaders to become her friends and come to her side,” Win Tin said. “But people suffered a lot [under military rule]. Without pushing the military out, we won’t achieve any democracy, any human rights.” ~~
“In 2012, their party decided to participate in a series of parliamentary elections under the military constitution. It was a decision Win Tin opposed, but once it was taken, he took part in the campaign. These days, as she spends more and more time either in parliament or on foreign trips, Suu Kyi and Win Tin appear to have become increasingly estranged. Win Tin senses danger in agreeing to small changes that would leave the military’s role still entrenched. “Some of us would like to withdraw this constitution and create a new one,” he said. ~~
“As foreign governments remove sanctions and investors come into Burma, the pressure on the regime to agree to further changes may dissipate. At the same time, Win Tin warns, his fellow pro-democracy politicians are already becoming comfortable with the limited changes the regime is offering, accepting a seat among the elite and losing their hunger for real change. “Many journalists, many politicians may think the situation they are in is good enough,” he said. “They are quite contented, and they do not want to attack the government. They don’t want to be outspoken. That is a problem.” ~~
“Some foreign diplomats say they find Win Tin unyielding, out of tune with the new mood of compromise. At the headquarters of the rival National Democratic Force, his name does not go down well. Seeking compromise with the military, the party split from the NLD to contest general elections under the military constitution in 2010, and there is still some bad feeling between the two sides. “He is a madman,” said Khin Maung Swe, the party’s 71-year-old chairman, who spent nearly as long in prison himself. “He just wants to die in prison as a martyr.” But across town, other former political prisoners, such as 37-year-old Aye Aung, who was sentenced to 59 years in jail in 1998 but released last July, says Win Tin is right to stick to his principles. Suu Kyi, he argues, has been losing touch with the people since she joined parliament and is not taking a strong enough line with the army. The military is so rooted in power, he warns, “we need a revolution” to remove it. Win Tin said that while he has reservations about her tactics, he still strongly believes in Suu Kyi’s commitment to democracy and obviously still respects her. If anyone can tame the generals, she can, he says.” ~~
Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, The Irrawaddy, Myanmar Travel Information Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Global Viewpoint (Christian Science Monitor), Foreign Policy, burmalibrary.org, burmanet.org, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, NBC News, Fox News and various books and other publications.
© 2008 Jeffrey Hays
Last updated May 2014