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NLDs ethical dilemma: Function as a pressure group or work within the system?

Written by Sai Wansai Thursday, 17 November 2011 09:32

By: Sai Wansai Thursday, 17 November, 2011 On November 18, a meeting of Central Committee members, more than 100 from across the country, would decide whether to re-register as a political party and go mainstream officially, within the political set up of Naypyidaw, which is the only game in town.

On 4 November, President Thein Sein signs a revised law on political parties to enable Suu Kyis party, the National League for Democracy (NLD), to re-register as an official political party. Previously, NLD has rejected the military-drawn, 2008 Constitution for not being democratic enough and refused to take part in the November 2010, general election.

After one year of controversial, farce election, Thein Sein government has doled out a series of political reform; such as holding direct talks with Aung San Suu Kyi, defying China and freezing work on an unpopular Mega dam, parliamentary meetings being opened to the media, parliament passing eye-catching laws such as the right for workers to strike and clearing the path for NLD to legally register.

Many international stakeholders have been lobbying for the support of Thein Seins minimal reform process by rewarding him with more recognition and increased incentives, so that the pace of reform will heighten and eventually become irreversible. In other words, the lifting of sanctions imposed by the West and accelerating or granting international legitimacy should be on the agenda, to quicken the reform process.

In the meantime, the government has delayed an expected release of political prisoners on Monday, which was said to be put off at short notice by the high-powered National Defence and Security Council (NDSC).


NLDs ethical dilemma: Function as a pressure group or work within the system?
Written by Sai Wansai Thursday, 17 November 2011 09:32

NDSC is headed by President Thein Sein and 10 out of 11 members are military personnel or ex-military personnel and one remaining full fledge civilian, Vice-President Sai Mauk Kham is from the pro-military party, Union Solidarity and Development Party.

On the ethnic conflict front, Naypyidaws achievement is somewhat mixed. It has managed to sign ceasefire with the United Wa State Army (UWSA), National Democratic Alliance Army (NDAA) which defy Naypyidaws Border Guard Force (BGF) plan of integration into Burma Army, but have not engaged in open armed conflict - and Democratic Karen Buddhist Army (DKBA). At the same time, it has established contact to talk over ceasefire arrangement with the Shan State Army North (SSA-N), Shan State Army South (SSA-S), New Mon State Party (NMSP) and Karen National Union (KNU), which are all engaged in open armed conflict with the regime. But parallel to all these peace overtures, the war with the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) in Shan and Kachin states is intensifying, ongoing and in full swing.

To end the ethnic conflict, the Naypyidaw on its part has proposed four steps procedure, which are ceasefire, exchange of liaison offices, prior notification before entering each others territory, and political dialogue.

The ethnic armed groups seem to be going along but insist that the fourth and final step of political dialogue be conducted collectively under the banner of United Nationalities Federal Council (UNFC). However, Naypyidaws response to the demand is still not yet being spelled out.

The UNFC formed in February 2011, is composed of six armed groups as permanent members: the Karen National Union (KNU), the New Mon State Party (NMSP), the Chin National Front (CNF), the Kachin Independence Organization, the Karenni National Progressive Party (KNPP), and the Shan State Progress Party/Shan State Army (SSPP/SSA).

With such a backdrop, the NLD, as a responsible public and mainstream party, is in a very delicate position to decide its political course, for any wrong move will affect its own political standing and could even deviate from its own prescribed principle. Furthermore, it couldnt even predict what real impact it could make on genuine democratic reform from within the mould of military supremacy, 2008 Constitution.


NLDs ethical dilemma: Function as a pressure group or work within the system?
Written by Sai Wansai Thursday, 17 November 2011 09:32

According to Shan Herald Agency for News (SHAN), the SNLD has already warned that the participation of NLD in the upcoming by-elections, after the re-registration of the party, could erode the trust of non-Burman ethic groups, which Aung San Suu Kyi so far enjoyed.

We understand that Daw Aung San Suu Kyi is trying hard to gain the release of political prisoners and to achieve a genuine democracy, but I'm afraid participating in the elections without first achieving at least the release of political prisoners is not a good idea. We are worried ethnic nationalities will never dare to trust her again, said Sai Leik, the SNLD spokesman recently.

Before making a final decision, perhaps it might be helpful to look at the 2009 NLD Shwegondaing Declaration, which includes, among others, the following points. - Unconditional release of all the political prisoners - Review of the 2008 Constitution - Establishment of a genuine Union based on the principle of equality for all the ethnic nationalities - Recognition of the result of the 1990 general election - Political dialogue

Of the mentioned points above, only the recognition of the 1990 general elections was recently accepted by the Thein Sein government.

Democratic Voice of Burma (DVB) recently reported Suu Kyi stated that the party should also accept that the 1990 election results were history, after the speaker of the National Parliament, Khin Aung Myint, said that he recognised the result.

And as such, all the other remaining points, which are most crucial, remain untouched.

A recent article, which argues that the NLD should re-register, appears in Myanmar Times writes:


NLDs ethical dilemma: Function as a pressure group or work within the system?
Written by Sai Wansai Thursday, 17 November 2011 09:32

- The NLD could not continue as an illegal entity forever. - If the NLD represents the public in parliaments it could lead to a strengthening of the democratic forces, not only in terms of the overall number but in their effectiveness in pushing for more reforms. - The participation of NLD could help garner more technical assistance for the parliamentary system from those with more experience with democracy, such as the United States and the European Union. They will not lift sanctions immediately but they could ease some restrictions that will strengthen Myanmars nascent democratic system, such as building the capacity of politicians and strengthening of civil society.

Sure, no doubt, Aung San Suu Kyi and Thein Sein need each other to advance their own interest. Thein Sein craves for international legitimacy and eventual lifting of sanctions, while Aung San Suu Kyi is exploring avenue to speed up a genuine democratic reform. The four times meeting of Aung San Suu Kyi with Labour Minister U Aung Kyi and once with President Thein Sein have brought some minor changes, but hardly enough to put the reform process on an irreversible footing. The regime half-hearted implementation of amnesty for political prisoners is the case in point, which makes the regimes reconciliation overtures or reform motivation looks insincere and doubtful.

In a press release of the ASEAN Inter-Parliamentary Myanmar Caucus (AIPMC), dated 14 November, on the eve of 19th ASEAN Summit in Bali, it writes: The reform process thus far has been stunted due to it being driven by the individual initiative of President Thein Sein, rather than being part of a national platform for reform. Change that depends on the willingness of the president alone is not reform, said Ms Sundari. It is wrong therefore for ASEAN to conclude that further incentives should be given to Myanmar in reward for superficial reforms.

Of course, it is for the NLD and Suu Kyi to decide whether they could achieve more as a pressure group, outside the parliament or better served by working within the existing political system.

The contributor is the General Secretary of Shan Democratic Union (SDU) - Editor