The Irrawaddy Burma Election 2010

Home Analysis Can the NLD be Reincarnated?

Can the NLD be Reincarnated?

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Perhaps a new breed of NLD activists can reincarnate the party using new creative strategies to directly engage a whole new range of issues that address the same goals set in the birth of the NLD in 1988.

Once upon a time, in the back seat of an old Pajero, Aung San Suu Kyi was trying to keep herself from bouncing against the roof of the car by holding on grimly to the front seat headrests. Her heart, however, was lifted when she saw the signboards of her party, the National League for Democracy (NLD), “gallantly displayed in front of extremely modest little offices.”

The year was 1995, just after Burma's pro-democracy icon was freed from her house arrest.

Kyaw Zwa Moe is managing editor of the Irrawaddy magazine. He can be reached at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .

“These signboards, brilliantly red and white, are a symbol of the courage of people who have remained dedicated to their beliefs in the face of severe repression, whose commitment to democracy has not been shaken by the adversities they have experienced,” Suu Kyi wrote, describing her first pilgrimage trip to Thamanya Hill, Karen State, in her book “Letters from Burma.

“The thought that such people are to be found all over Burma lifted my heart,” she wrote.

That memory will probably become a “once upon a time” story.

Once free, it's unlikely that the 64-year-old opposition leader will ever again see such a display of signboards for her party, which will be dissolved  after May 7, the deadline the ruling junta set for all political parties to register to contest the elections to be held this year.  

On March 29, the NLD unanimously decided not to register, a decision critized by numerous foreign observers and internationally well-known magazines. However, the majority of Burmese inside and outside the country believed it was the right decision.

For the NLD, both choices—to take part in the junta's rigged election or to self-terminate the party—were unacceptable. The former would have given legitimacy to the election, and the latter would erase its existence as a party.

In the past, the NLD was widely criticized for practicing a survival strategy—in other words, not to be disbanded by the junta—and for not taking creative and politically brave stands against the regime. 

The leadership used to respond that it wanted to hand over a “living” party to Suu Kyi when she was released and they saw themselves as guardians or caretakers, a view that met with criticism even within the party.

There were disagreements or gaps between the leadership and various factions of active members, some of whom, including the now imprisoned Naw Ohn Hla, who were suspended or expelled temporarily by the leadership for their individual intiatives such as marching and praying for the release of Suu Kyi at Shwedagon Pagoda or distributing political leaflets in public.

In the past, critics saw the NLD at best a symbol of the democracy movement, but essentially a dead party. The Rangoon headquareters was even called “an old folks home,” because most leaders were at least octogenarians, and its efforts were passive or inactive.

The NLD has chosen to terminate itself, but its demise may be a creative opportunity for a new breed of NLD members to inact new initiatives and tactics to keep the pro-democrracy movement alive.

This week, the NLD apologized to the public for its “unsuccessful struggle for democracy.” It was the first time the NLD admitted that it had failed at its mission, but to be honest, almost all pro-democracy groups struggling under totalitarian dictators fail in their mission. It's only when a mass wave of citizens speak out that regime change occurs.

In its statement, the NLD said it will continue to stand alongside the public and use non-violent strategies under the leadership of Suu Kyi.

Perhaps a new breed of NLD activists can reincarnate the party using new creative strategies to directly engage a whole new range of issues that address the same goals of democracy set out in the birth of the NLD in 1988.

The Burmese people would like to see the NLD rise like a Phoenix from its ashes.



Nyan_win80"Once her [Aung San Suu Kyi's] sentence expires in November, and that notion is not disputed, it is our understanding that she will have served her sentence."
—Nyan Win, the foreign minister of Burma


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