Feature: Regional NLD branches laying low

Khin Hnin Htet

Oct 9, 2008 (DVB), Since the Saffron Revolution in September last year, regional National League for Democracy branches have been keeping a low profile, with many not even managing to hold regular meetings.

This period of quiet is unusual; even when many NLD offices were sealed off after the Depayin incident in May 2003, party members were still active and able to meet regularly.

Is it the situation in the regions that has caused this dip in activities, or a lack of direction from NLD headquarters?

Mya Hla, an elected member of parliament from Bago, one of the most active regions, gives three reasons why NLD regional activities have stopped.

"Firstly, all the township offices have been closed down so we have nowhere to hold meetings and no one dares to host us," he explained.

"Secondly, the restrictions imposed on us, for example we have to inform the authorities when we are holding meetings, make not only normal members but also the central executive committee afraid to come to meetings," he went on.

"Thirdly, the headquarters haven’t handed down any instructions or issues that we need to discuss and gain agreement on."

Despite these difficulties, some townships are continuing to hold regular meetings, but Mya Hla said that other townships genuinely could not hold meetings due to the restrictions imposed upon them.

While he insisted that party members remained staunch supporters of the NLD, he admitted that the lack of action could become an issue in the longer term.

In Mandalay division in central Burma the situation is slightly different, according to Myingyan MP-elect Paw Khin.

"The situation is quite good , we are able to hold two meetings a month, but that’s it," he said.

"We are waiting for instructions from the headquarters. There have been no instructions for a while."

In nearby Magwe division, activities have been suspended since local NLD secretary Myint Oo was arrested in connection with last September's mass public demonstrations.

U Taa, an elected MP from Magwe division’s Salin township, said the situation became too difficult to hold regular meetings.

"We could not meet because of the difficulty in finding a place to meet, and when we did hold meetings, they would come and check up on us," he explained.

"We stopped having meetings after repeated harassment."

In Karen state, Pa-an MP-elect Nant Khin Htway Myint said that local party membership had been weakened by the intense pressure and intimidation.

"The authorities have been causing stress and intimidation and forcing people to resign," he said.

In Kachin State in northern Burma, there were sporadic meetings in some townships up until September last year, but these stopped after party leaders were arrested and imprisoned.

NLD state organising committee member Ngwe Kyaing from Myitkyina blamed the situation on the lack of a safe place to meet.

"If we still had our office, we would always meet in the office. Now that our office is sealed off, we have no place to meet," she said.

"If we did, the place would be in danger as we would have to inform [the authorities]."

But Ngwe Kyaing insisted that, despite these difficulties, members would be willing to carry out any instructions sent from NLD headquarters.

Ban Lja, chair of Chin state NLD in northwest Burma, said that morale was suffering.

"There is nothing special going on here as we have not had any instructions from headquarters," he explained.

"We are just sitting around doing nothing and it’s affecting our morale a little bit," he said.

"But the people in the townships meet occasionally and our party organisations in rural areas are still going strong."

In northern Shan State, economic difficulties contribute to the lack of political activities, according to Lashio MP-elect Sai Myint Maung.

"The closure of offices is one reason. Secondly, people are struggling to survive," he explained.

"I am surviving because I have my own little business. The rest are in trouble."

Senior NLD member and newly-released political prisoner Win Tin acknowledged that there were difficulties in coordinating the activities of the regional NLD groups.

"We are facing problems because we are unable to go to the regions to solve the problems and we can’t afford to invite them to Rangoon," Win Tin said.

"But if we wanted to, we could still struggle on our own. The way places like Meikhtila are operating is amazing, encouraging and worth taking a lesson from," he said.

"I don’t want people to just let the headquarters do the job without the regions. I want it to be more widespread. I want to hear the voices from the regions."

But Win Tin said the regional members should act on their own initiative to find ways to remain active.

"The HQs has many problems, so instead of waiting for instructions, do it from the bottom up, in your own ways," he said.

"We have leaders, firm policies and the strong support of the people. With these three things, there is no reason to feel dejected."

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