The NLD: Resurgent, revitalised and ready

The National League for Democracy is preparing for the election battle with renewed energy. In recent weeks it has become increasingly obvious that months of planning and organising are beginning to bear fruit. It is a resurgent, revitalised and reinvigorated NLD that is emerging to fight for power on November 8. It is no longer the introspective party, lacking in vision, that seemed to have lost its way after its overwhelming victory in the 1990 election for a constituent assembly.

By LARRY JAGAN | FRONTIER

The election date announcement has galvanised the party leadership and focused minds on the mammoth tasks ahead. It has forced NLD elders to look beyond the party for inspiration and personnel. Finally, the party is modernising in readiness to fight the election and form the next government – or be part of any coalition government that emerges after the polls.

Senior NLD leaders say the party will announce its policies, plans and strategies in the coming weeks. “People are going to be taken by surprise at how detailed, innovative and refreshing these policies really are,” said Australian academic Sean Turnell, who has also been advising the party on its economic platform.

“The NLD has spent considerable time and resources developing policies designed to transform Myanmar’s economy, and not just to win an election,” Dr Turnell said. They are liberal, market-friendly policies that welcome responsible foreign investment, he said, adding that on the macro-economic level, the NLD was committed to moderate fiscal and non-inflationary monetary policies.

For now, the party is pre-occupied with choosing election candidates. Since 2010, many activists and politicians have regarded the NLD as being insular. Leading civil society representatives – many originally from the NLD – felt they were being treated as enemies rather than potential allies. When the NLD and the 88 Generation Peace and Open Society movement cooperated last year on a petition urging constitutional reform the relationship was fraught, say sources close to the former student leaders.

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Now, there is a new openness in the NLD as it courts independent activists, academics, professionals and business people to join the party and contest the elections. “We need intelligent, professional and respectable candidates, and we may have to look outside the party,” senior NLD leader and MP, U Win Htein told me earlier this year.

The party’s central executive committee, 88 Generation leaders and the United Nationalities Association have been holding talks, often without NLD leader Daw Aung San Suu Kyi being present. With the election date set, there’s been a greater urgency to these meetings.

The party’s decision to nominate as election candidates Ko Ko Gyi and 17 other 88 Generation members is a key strategic move by the rejuvenated NLD. Other activists, academics and professionals have joined the NLD recently and will fight the elections. They include Yangon University rector Dr Aung Thu, former University of Medicine (Mandalay) rector Dr Than Win, Daw Zin Mar Aung from the Yangon School of Political Science, Yangon regional assembly Independent MP and legal expert Dr Nyo Nyo Thin, and the blogger and media activist, Nay Phone Latt.

“This is all very exciting,” said taxi driver and ardent NLD supporter U Win Lwin, referring to the prominent figures who have joined the party to contest the election. Their pre-selection is part of the party’s preparations to join the coalition government expected to emerge after the election. Many of the new recruits are potential ministers in the next administration, together with existing NLD members such as Dr Thein Lwin, from the National Network for Education Reform.

In a recent interview with Frontier, NLD spokesman U Nyan Win said the party was yet to discuss portfolio allocations for the new recruits, but added that he thought they would be interested in finance, education, health and foreign affairs.

An obvious question is the role Daw Aung San Suu Kyi will play in the post-election scenario. “She won’t want to be speaker of the parliament,” insisted U Nyan Win. “She will want to have power and influence over policy,” he said.

He declined to elaborate but a pragmatic compromise – because the NLD leader can’t be president or vice-president – would be to appoint her foreign minister. Daw Aung San Suu Kyi could make a real difference for the country – and be at the top table as well. The foreign minister is the only civilian on the all-important National Defence and Security Council.

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