Campaigning for the November election is only two months away and the ether is crackling with speculation. One of the most debated issues
is whom the National League for Democracy will propose as its candidate for the presidency because its leader, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, is ineligible under section 59(f) of the 2008 Constitution.
The NLD has no obvious candidates. Most of its second tier leaders are either too old or not well known. So who did Daw Suu have in mind when she told journalists at her residence in Nay Pyi Taw on July 11 that the party had already chosen its presidential candidate?
She declined to elaborate, but the nominee might come from the 88 Generation Peace and Open Society movement, founded by student leaders of the 1988 uprising.
It is an open secret that the 88 Generation strategist, Ko Ko Gyi, wants to start a political party but that the movement’s leader, Min Ko Naing, who is probably Myanmar’s second most prominent democratic politician, prefers to focus on civil society activities.
On Monday July 20 the 88 Generation leadership announced that 17 of its members will run on the NLD list. After many months of talking behind the scenes, the acceptance of their candidacy by the NLD’s National Committee for Candidate Selection, headed by the Lady, is probably a formality.
In a sense it is understandable that the democrats would choose to form a united front that would attract significant popular support. The NLD is overly dependent on its leader Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, who stayed most of her life abroad and confined to her own house at University Avenue for years on end. There are no obvious candidate within the party who have the capacity or the stature to step into her foortseps.
The 88 Generation movement harbours two credible candidates for the highest office though: Ko Ko Gyi and Min Ko Naing.
The latter is not interested in a role in party politics, but Ko Ko Gyi is and it would be a strategic masterstroke if the NLD catapulted him into a prominent leadership position.
It is hardly a secret that one of the few issues in which the ruling USDP has an edge over the NLD concerns Muslims in general and Rohingya in particular.
Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s credibility as a Nobel Peace Prize laureate and champion of human rights and democracy has been tarnished by her reluctance to speak out more strongly about the situation in Rakhine State. As an ambitious politician she has little to gain from doing so. She knows it would alienate many NLD supporters. For hardline Buddhist nationalists, even her cautious, minimal expressions of concern about the situation in Rakhine and sectarian violence elsewhere have been too much. Social media posts have accused her of being pro-Muslim; some have called her “Haji-ma”.
Ko Ko Gyi, on the other hand, has been outspoken about the Rohingya.
In an interview with the Editor-in-Chief of Frontier in late 2014, he said the Rohingya were encircling the homeland of the Rakhine Buddhists and having too many children. “We need to control population growth in Rakhine. Of course the Buddhist population is afraid,” he said, adding that there is no Rohingya ethnic group and that Muslims had murdered 20,000 Rakhine Buddhists in 1942.
Most Myanmar share his opinions.
Ko Ko Gyi’s 88 Generation reputation, his status as one of the country’s three best-known democratic politicians and his views on the situation in Rakhine mean that he might be just the candidate the NLD needs to lure voters away from the USDP.
It won’t be a pretty spectacle. But then again, the fight for power is rarely a beauty contest.