Opposition May Rejoin Political System in Myanmar
Publisher: the New York Times, USA
Author: By THOMAS FULLER
Story date: 16/11/2011
Language: English

BANGKOK — After more than two decades of persecution by Myanmar's military, the party of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi says it will decide Friday whether to rejoin the political system, a potential milestone for a country that appears to be gradually emerging from years of dictatorship and oppression.

Mrs. Aung San Suu Kyi's party, the National League for Democracy, was outlawed after it refused to take part in elections last year and has until recently characterized the changes in Myanmar as cosmetic. The new political system was conceived and is dominated by former generals, including President Thein Sein.

But Mrs. Aung San Suu Kyi, who was under house arrest for most of the past two decades until her release a year ago, is now more inclined to cooperate with the government, U Nyan Win, a spokesman for the party, said Wednesday by telephone.

"The lady said the president is willing to change," Mr. Nyan Win said, employing the polite term commonly used in Myanmar for Mrs. Aung San Suu Kyi.

Mr. Nyan Win, a top official in the party, said he favored rejoining the political system, which would mean that party members, including Mrs. Aung San Suu Kyi, would be eligible to run for office in coming by-elections.

"Change will be accelerated if we reregister our party and cooperate with the government," Mr. Nyan Win said.

Of late, Mrs. Aung San Suu Kyi has been invited to high-level meetings with officials. Portraits of her father, Gen. Aung San, founder of the country's modern military, hang prominently in government offices.

This month the government proposed amendments to the electoral laws that would include lifting a ban that prevented "convicts" from joining political parties, a move that observers said might help entice Mrs. Aung San Suu Kyi to reregister her party.

Yet a decision to rejoin the political system, which would carry enormous political significance inside and outside the country, is far from guaranteed. Mrs. Aung San Suu Kyi's party remains divided between those eager to rejoin the mainstream and a small group of hard-liners who are not convinced that the recent changes to the economy and the political system are real and permanent.

In addition, other crucial decisions have yet to be announced, including a response to Mrs. Aung San Suu Kyi's demand that more political prisoners be released.

The government released some prisoners in October, but many prominent dissidents are still detained. An open letter by the chairman of the country's human rights commission that was published in the state news media on Sunday urged the government to grant an amnesty to "prisoners of conscience." Such letters are rare in Myanmar, where until recently political discourse was almost always held behind closed doors.

For the government, a significant motivating factor for change appears to be international acceptance. In 2006, Myanmar, then run overtly by a military junta, renounced its turn for the rotating presidency of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, or Asean, in the face of foreign pressure over human rights abuses and the detention of political prisoners.

Myanmar, which is also known as Burma, is now lobbying to take on the chairmanship of Asean in 2014, a responsibility that carries prestige in the eyes of the Burmese leadership. Reports from Bali, Indonesia, where leaders of Asean are meeting through this weekend, suggest that Myanmar has significant support from other members on the issue of the chairmanship. But the group, which works by consensus, has not announced a decision.
 

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