Monday, August 8, 2011

Will Aung San Suu Kyi’s political party survive?

Monday, 08 August 2011 13:57 Salai Z T Lian

(Commentary) – Just over two decades ago, in 1990, the National League for Democracy (NLD) won national elections in Burma, but the ruling military regime refused to allow them to govern.

The National League for Democracy headquarters in
Rangoon. Photo: Mizzima
Since that time, the regime has treated Aung San Suu Kyi’s NLD as the enemy, putting many members of the party behind bars and threatening them to give up their political stance.

Despite the repression, the NLD has stood firm in its beliefs. Furthermore, it has received strong support from the international community, including the United States and the United Kingdom, causing alarm to the regime in its dealings with the party.

The military regime penned the 2008 Constitution knowing full well that it would not be accepted by the NLD, and some other political parties, independent politicians, and ethnic armed groups, so that the regime could say––“You guys don’t want to participate in the Burmese political process.” At the same time, by holding the 2010 elections, the regime could show the international community how it is trying to make political progress in Burma.

Even after the military regime changed itself into a so-called “civilian government” in March 2011, there has still been growing pressure on the NLD because most of the so-called civilian government officers are derived from the military regime—including President Thein Sein himself.

After the NLD was dissolved by the authorities, following the party’s decision to boycott last November’s elections, the Burmese Supreme Court dismissed an appeal by the NLD against the decision. Since then, the new Burmese government has kept pressuring the party to discontinue its political activities, telling them that under the 2008 Constitution, running an unregistered political party is illegal. The NLD has fought for its existence in the courts, but all of the legal efforts were turned down.

After its appeal was rejected by the Burmese Supreme Court under the influence of the new government, the NLD is now preparing to file an appeal to the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC). But it is unlikely that this will be effective, even if the UNHRC recognized the NLD as a legal political party in Burma. The reasons are that the UN may not be serious enough to put pressure on the new Burmese government, and the new Burmese government does not appear to care about UN pressure.

So the main player is the new Burmese government itself which will determine the legal existence of the NLD. It’s hard to know for sure how long the NLD or Aung San Suu Kyi’s party will survive in this kind of situation.

In the case of President Thein Sein making an exception and allowing the NLD to pursue its political beliefs, then there will be a way out of the crisis for the NLD. But probably the NLD will only be allowed to continue its political activities with conditions—even if President Thein Sein gives it the green light to continue.

Since the NLD likes to conduct its political activities freely, a deal in which there are restrictions on their activities may not work for them. But if there is no choice for the NLD, they may accept such a deal with conditions. But the new Burmese government will show up to talk with the NLD so that neighbouring countries and the international community will view it as a positive step and will lessen pressure on the new Burmese government. This is what Naypyitaw really looks for. In order for there to be a deal between the new Burmese government and the NLD, it’s sure that the new Burmese government will only be willing to cooperate if the deal is in its favour—otherwise, negotiations over a deal will end up half way. But an unfair deal with the new Burmese government is unlikely to be accepted by the NLD.

What is interesting to note is that the current relationship between Aung Sang Suu Kyi and the new government may benefit the NLD if the meetings continue. The benefit will be that the new government will refrain from questioning the legal existence of the NLD as long as they think the NLD is not a threat to its power. However, the new government will not allow anything to happen that is a threat against its power, so the NLD will need to keep a low profile if it wants the relationship with the government to run smoothly.

It is pretty sure that the new government only wants to win the political game against the NLD. So the new government may pretend to be friendly towards the NLD in order to calm down the burning democratic desire of the Burmese people as well as tamp down pressure from the international community, but in fact it will never let the NLD beat them.

If there is to be any political progress made between the new government and NLD, there must be a mediator, such as the US or UN so that real political progress can be made. Otherwise, the new government will always win over the NLD unfairly. It will not matter for the new government whether it wins the game fairly or unfairly. Without an international mediator, the political dialogue between the new government and the NLD will not bring change. So there is no point in the NLD having a dialogue with the new Burmese government without a mediator as it will not bring change.

With or without a mediator, the NLD has no choice but to fight to survive under any pressure until their last breath. It may not matter how the government treats them as they are familiar with the way the government has treated them in the past.

It is not certain how long the NLD will be able to resist the new government’s pressure. If the new government intensifies pressure and forces the closure of the party’s headquarters, the NLD may live on in the people’s hearts, as one of NLD leaders, U Win Tin said.

But the question is––where will the Burmese people find the NLD’s physical office in Burma? The NLD will have to live in people’s hearts. This is not what the NLD wants, but the philosophy of surviving in people’s hearts could be the NLD’s last stand against the new Burmese government. As the new government plays its political game, the NLD’s survival remains uncertain.

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