In an historic move yesterday, Burma’s main opposition party, the National League for Democracy (NLD), voted against registering for elections this year. Under recently announced Burmese laws, the decision means that the party headed by Aung San Suu Kyi will be legally abolished and no longer able to officially operate within the country’s political arena. Had the party agreed to register, however, Suu Kyi would have been expelled and the NLD would be forced to accept the controversial 2008 constitution.
Senior NLD member U Win Tin, who spent 19 years in prison for his political activities, tells DVB that the decision will allow the party to move around among the people more and “do things it hasn’t been able to do for 20 years”.
What is mood like within the NLD following yesterday’s decision?
Well Daw Aung San Suu Kyi sent a letter to the conference yesterday and in that she said that we will never accept this constitution and register under these unjust laws; we will never destroy the party by laws. That means that our party and its politics will still exist in our mind. So after the conference yesterday, the mood of the leaders from all over the country was one of high elation and they are quite happy because although we know that we are marginalised and our party cannot exist, we are going to go around the country and work for the people.
There is obviously concern about the future of your party. Where will you go from here?
Of course we are no more a legal organisation, but we will still be here. We will operate in four spheres of politics: first, we still have many organisations across the country and many party members so we will keep our solidarity and move around within the sphere of the NLD itself. Second, we will work with other democratic and minority forces because nowadays we have good relations with these groups. Third, we have a very good relationship with the EU, UN, US and ASEAN, as well as foreign media, and we will keep that relationship with the international community. Lastly, we have to work for the people. For the last 20 years it was bad; we really couldn’t any good for the people because of the oppression by the government. So now that we can no longer organise as a political party, we will move around the people and find out what we can do to help them, and this is something we haven’t been able to do much in the last 20 years.
The other factor is Daw Aung San Suu Kyi – she is the only figurehead that can solve the problems of Burma so the international community must pressure the junta to open communication with her and create dialogue between her and Than Shwe. Even though she cannot operate as a politician, she has the trust of the people and the international community so she will remain a great force within Burmese politics and we will stand by her.
With Suu Kyi under house arrest and barred from politics, do you feel the NLD needs an alternative to her leadership?
There are very few people who can reach the status of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, but now we have many young activists such as Min Ko Naing and Ko Ko Gyi [88 Generation Student leaders] who are growing mature and if the people support them they can become important political figures in the future. They are not an alternative to Daw Aung San Suu Kyi but they will have some political influence. Also general Tin Oo [NLD vice-chairman] is quite popular among the people and his support base is strong and his politics are good. So we are not disheartened by the lack of leadership, because Daw Aung San Suu Kyi will be living long and there are many young people and forces whom we can join together with.
You said recently that the international needs to combine action with its words. How should it now approach Burma?
[International leaders] should listen to Ban Ki-moon who said that the international community should respect the decision of the NLD not to register; that is very important. If they think we got the wrong resolution that lessens Burma’s chances of democratic change then we will have less support from the international community, but we need stronger international support. Even China is changing its mind about this junta because they failed to create political change and China wants this in Burma; at least in a nominal way.
Is there a time in the future when the NLD will unite with ethnic political groups and armies?
Yes of course. The NLD is the only political force which has a strong relationship with minority political groups. Up to this day we have a committee and we work together [with them]. We have trust among national political forces; of course we cannot send envoys out the mountains and the north of the country but we still have a good relationship with different nationalities, and they trust Daw Aung San Suu Kyi. This is the second sphere I talked about. We also expect to see some changes within the army because nowadays there isn’t a very good mood within it; they realise that they cannot go on for long with this junta. I think within this year there will be changes because of the transformation to the sham democracy and because the army leadership is getting old, and the living standard for troops is poor. If these changes do occur, then the army will rely more on political forces, such as the NLD.
Burma looks set to enter a new era of military rule. What can you say to people who might be losing hope of democratic change in the country?
People are tired of this dictatorial rule and they hope for some change. Their economic situation is worse and their day-to-day life is hard, so they naturally expect some sort of democratic change. I think there will be a big reaction from the international community if there are no traces of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi or the NLD participating in the political process, but with issues such as the Border Guard Force and growing international pressure, the army will grow harder and there will be harder rule under the guise of a democratic parliament. So I don’t think people can expect democratic change soon.