Aung San Suu Kyi’s Burmese opposition party faced calls to inject new blood into its aging top ranks as it opened a landmark conference yesterday dedicated to its youth wing.
The Nobel Peace Prize winner’s National League for Democracy (NLD), founded after a bloody crackdown on a failed popular uprising in 1988, is preparing for key parliamentary elections next year that could sweep it to power.
Maung Maung Oo, one of the organizers of the meeting of about 150 opposition party members aged 16 to 35 — the first of its kind — said the aim was “to promote a new generation of leaders.”
“Not only our party, but the whole country faces a generation gap,” he told reporters.
Young activists were often at the vanguard of Myanmar’s decades-old resistance to military rule, which ended in 2011 with the creation of a nominally civilian government.
However, they have struggled to penetrate a fledgling post-junta parliamentary system in a country that highly values respect for one’s elders.
“I can guess that some youths might have in their mind that it’s their turn to take their places, wondering whether the elders will give up their positions,” Aung San Suu Kyi said in an opening address to the conference.
“You need to consider how these elders have struggled for a long time to ensure the survival of the NLD,” she added.
Younger members have urged the NLD to rejuvenate its senior ranks, traditionally dominated by activists in their 60s or older known as “the uncles,” but so far the party has refrained from a substantial revamp.
“The voice of the youth in the party is still weak,” said NLD member Yazar, 37.
“I’m not satisfied with the current structure, which lacks a proper central executive committee,” he said.
“Everything depends on Daw Aung San Suu Kyi. I don’t think it’s a good sign,” he said. Daw is a term of respect in Myanmar.
However, there was also a recognition that the party needs the experience of its veteran activists.
“We, the youths, still need to learn many things for the future of Myanmar. So we need to do capacity-building first,” said Okkar Min, a 29-year-old graduate from the southern city of Myeik. “We will learn good things from the elders and will avoid the bad things as well.”
Burmese President Thein Sein, a former general, has been praised for overseeing dramatic reforms since taking office in 2011, including the release of political prisoners, the end of direct media censorship and the entry of the opposition into parliament.
“On the road ahead, whether the youths and the elders like it nor not, youths will have to take positions one day,” Aung San Suu Kyi told the conference. “The elders will gradually disappear naturally. The youths will become the elders. Don’t forget this.”