It’s do-or-die time for Suu Kyi’s NLD
Bangkok Post, 7 Feb 2008
FOCUS / BURMA
It’s do-or-die time for Suu Kyi’s NLD
By KYAW ZWA MOE
My heart sank last week when I heard the words of pro-democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi: “Let’s hope for the best, but prepare for the worst.”
It was a discouraging, inconvenient truth which Daw Suu Kyi shared with her National League for Democracy (NLD) colleagues when the regime allowed her to meet with them briefly last week.
The words of the detained opposition leader indicate that the political state of Burma is moving from bad to worse to the worst.
Her words came out of her frustration with the ongoing “talks” with the ruling military regime. The regime appointed a liaison officer to deal with Daw Suu Kyi after it faced mounting international pressure following its harsh crackdown on the monk-led demonstrations last September.
Since then, the liaison officer, former Maj-Gen Aung Kyi, has met with Daw Suu Kyi four times, but the meetings haven’t gone beyond trivial topics.
According to the NLD, Daw Suu Kyi requested to meet with the head of the military junta, Senior General Than Shwe, but she has received no response.
Daw Suu Kyi also “is not pleased with the talks” mainly because of the lack of a time frame, NLD spokesperson Nyan Win said after he met with her last Wednesday. According to one NLD member, she does not want to give false hope to the people of Burma.
Yes, it is important for a leader not to give false hope to the people.
The Burmese people heard her statement, and they appreciated her candour. But they also have a right not to lower their expectations of her and the NLD leadership.
Specifically, the people have a right to hear what type of substantive strategy Daw Suu Kyi and her colleagues have to break the current political stalemate with the stubborn generals.
Most Burmese would support a more pro-active NLD policy with its own guidelines, strategy and deadlines for taking the struggle for democracy to a higher level.
Such expectations from the public are only fair. The NLD is the main opposition party. It received about 82% of the vote in the 1990 nationwide election. The party has a clear mandate to carry out its mission to implement democracy in Burma.
The NLD has tried but failed to create a unified policy that the people can rally behind. The party has suffered from a sustained, brutal assault waged by the generals ever since the 1988 uprising. The senior NLD members are in their 70s and 80s. Many have served time in prison. They have earned the people’s respect and sympathy. The leaders have a strong commitment to the movement.
However, to be frank, this does not of itself qualify them to be the leaders of the party and the democracy movement at this time. A large segment of the public is frustrated, for new ways to break the impasse that has gripped Burma for years.
In its 20-year-history, the NLD has been more political than practical, especially during the years when Daw Suu Kyi has been under house arrest; she has been detained for 12 of the past 18 years.
Some observers believe many of the NLD’s senior leaders regard themselves as “care-takers” rather than freedom fighters whose goal is to keep the party alive in the absence of its real leader.
Meanwhile, the junta has effectively destroyed or impeded the work of the broader pro-democracy movement to the point where the 2007 uprising occurred more or less without the active participation of the NLD leadership, although the party’s rank-and-file membership took part in the demonstrations.
The NLD, despite the brutality of the generals, must work harder to formulate new, meaningful policies that can rally the Burmese people. Otherwise, despite its past accomplishments, it has failed. NLD critics take the line: “Without Suu Kyi, the party is nothing.”
It should not, and must not, be like that. The party, its members and the public need a broad reliable leadership within an effective opposition party.
As an example, look at South Africa’s apartheid struggle. When the head of the African National Congress, Nelson Mandela, was in prison, other leaders carried on the movement. So should the NLD.
Last week, Daw Suu Kyi told her colleagues to move forward without her, according to a senior NLD member. He quoted her as saying: sometimes she will lead; sometimes she will follow others’ leadership in the party. Daw Suu Kyi also said sometimes the party needs to push and sometimes it needs to pull, and if it is necessary, everyone needs to be ready to give up everything.
Golden words! It’s time for the NLD leadership to take her words to heart. It’s time for bold ideas and action. The party must be in the forefront of the pro-democracy movement. The party’s mission is not to keep itself alive, but to keep the country alive. It’s do-or-die time for the NLD leadership and the Burmese people.
Kyaw Zwa Moe is managing editor of Irrawaddy magazine. http://www.irrawaddy.org