Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Suu Kyi urges party unity at first national congress

National League for Democracy chair Aung San Suu Kyi issued a call for unity on March 9 at the party’s first congress amid concerns that internal squabbles could undermine its push for power at elections in 2015.

National League for Democracy chair Aung San Suu Kyi at the National League for Democracy's first congress at Yangon's Royal Rose Restaurant March 9, 2013. (Aung Htay Hlaing/The Myanmar Times)National League for Democracy chair Aung San Suu Kyi at the National League for Democracy's first congress at Yangon's Royal Rose Restaurant March 9, 2013. (Aung Htay Hlaing/The Myanmar Times)

Suu Kyi said members needed to revive the spirit of the party, referring to widespread reports of conflict within Myanmar’s major opposition group.

But she acknowledged "there was some fighting" within the party, something analysts attribute to the reluctance of elderly 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 was expected to be re-elected as party chairman on March 9, 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."

Although the NLD is hugely popular, some experts question whether the party is ready to run a nation whose economy, education and health systems have been left in tatters by decades of military rule.

The party is expected to win the national elections in 2015, if they are free and fair. But experts say it must first resolve internal divisions, which flared ahead of the conference as four members were banned from attending, accused of trying to influence the voting.

Addressing the issue of the party’s chairmanship, Suu Kyi said delegates must elect a "leader who is in accord with this era, in accord with this country and the party".

She urged members to act responsibly for the party and "not for a seat" in parliament.

Suu Kyi, 67, has not ruled out an ambition to become president but a constitutional rule bars her from the role as she was married to a Briton and has two sons who are foreign nationals.

But doubts persist over whether her opposition party can remodel itself for the challenges of government, with many senior members – known as the "NLD uncles" and in their 80s and 90s – refusing to make way for younger members.

"We must have people of every age in our party, not just the old or young," she said.

The NLD also faces the financial and political might of President U Thein Sein's Union Solidarity and Development Party, created by former generals who shed their uniforms to run for office in elections held in 2010.

The USDP, which was battered by the NLD in by-elections held in April last year that saw Suu Kyi elected to parliament, is also scrambling for a new strategy to avert a major defeat in 2015.

But with expectations soaring, scrutiny of the NLD will only intensify, said a Myanmar political analyst who asked to remain anonymous.

"The NLD will need to build capacity within the organisation if they become the next government. I don't think they have anyone capable of running this show," he added.

Suu Kyi said party representatives must choose a leader who is in agreement with the political climate and in accord with the country’s needs, as well as those of the party.

"We all have to embrace diversity of opinion; we don’t need to be scared of different ways of thinking and must welcome them to make the best decision," Suu Kyi said.

In addition to electing a new chair, the party congress will also choose 150 representatives to form a central committee from the 890 members attending the three-day event.

U Tin Oo, a patron of the NLD, who acknowledged that it has been accused of being a centrally organised body, insisted that the party elections would be democratic.

"We’ve faced a lot of conflicts between members before the congress, but we’ve passed these smoothly and peacefully, and can solve our problems," he said on March 9.

"We can solve any problem by cooperating with Daw Aung San Suu Kyi as the leader of the party," he said.

The NLD congress was attended by U Htay Oo, the general secretary of the Union Solidarity and Development Party, as well as senior representatives of other political parties.

"We believe that we’re working with other political parties because we’re all in the same boat. I agree with Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s speech that we must all work together for the country’s interest," U Htay Oo said.

Additional reporting by AFP