Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi yesterday called for her once-banned party to unify amid concerns that internal squabbles could undermine its push for power at historic polls in 2015.
Speaking at the first-ever congress of her popular, but politically callow National League for Democracy (NLD) party, Aung San Suu Kyi urged a revival of the “spirit of fraternity” which saw it build a huge base during iron-fisted junta rule.
However, she acknowledged “there was some fighting” within the party, something analysts attribute to the reluctance of a group of senior advisers — veterans of the democracy struggle — to give way to an eager younger generation.
“We have to act with restraint,” the Nobel laureate, who was expected to be re-elected as party chairman yesterday, said while urging delegates not to fight over positions.
“The spirit of fraternity is very important. We have been strong in the past because of this spirit,” she said.
Although hugely popular in Myanmar, some experts question whether the NLD is ready to run an impoverished nation whose economy, education and health systems were left in tatters by the corrupt former junta.
The party is expected to win national elections in 2015, if they are free and fair.
However, experts say it must first solve internal divisions, which again flared ahead of the conference as four members were banned from attending, accused of trying to influence the voting.
Addressing the issue of party chairmanship, Aung San Suu Kyi said delegates must elect a “leader who is in accord with this era, in accord with this country and the party.”
The congress is the latest sign of the dramatic changes seen in Myanmar since a quasi-civilian regime, led by former general Thein Sein, took power in 2011, ending years of isolation and heralding a flood of aid and investment.
The 67-year-old Aung San Suu Kyi has not ruled out ambitions of becoming president, with elections set for 2015, but a constitutional rule bars her from the role as she was married to a Briton and has two sons who are foreign nationals.
However, doubts persist over whether her opposition party can remodel itself for the challenges of government, with many senior members — known as the “NLD uncles” — in their 80s and 90s yet refusing to make way for younger members.
The NLD also faces the financial and political might of Burmese President Thein Sein’s Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), created by former generals who shed their uniforms to run for office in controversial elections held in 2010.
The USDP, which was battered by the NLD in by-elections held in April last year that saw Suu Kyi elected to parliament, is also scrambling for a new strategy to avert a major defeat in 2015.
However, with expectations soaring, scrutiny of the NLD will only intensify, said one Burmese political analyst who asked to remain anonymous.
“The NLD will need to build capacity within the organization if they become the next government. I don’t think they have anyone capable of running this show,” he added.