Will the resignation of Daw Thet Thet Khine hurt the NLD?

The NLD leadership has been ruthless towards those it regarded, for whatever reason, as a potential threat to its total control of the party machine.


THE resignation from the National League for Democracy of Daw Thet Thet Khine, the Pyithu Hluttaw representative for Yangon’s Dagon Township, has generated a buzz among politicians and anyone interested in politics. Thet Thet Khine, a wealthy, successful businessperson, has been permitted to resign from the NLD more than a year after she was suspended from all party activities for allegedly violating party discipline.

Thet Thet Khine submitted her resignation on October 24; a week later, the NLD’s central executive committee approved it at a meeting in Yangon. Thet Thet Khine intends to remain active in politics and has told the media she plans to form her own party. Can she come back to haunt the NLD?

Thet Thet Khine said there were three reasons why she decided to walk away from the NLD. The first was that she considered her treatment by the party to be contrary to democratic norms. Second, her right to perform her duties as an MP were restricted. The third was that she was “99 percent certain” that the NLD would not chose her as a candidate in the general election due to be held next year. Thet Thet Khine said that for these reasons, and because she wanted to remain in politics and continue to contribute to nation building through the political arena, she decided to leave the NLD without further delay.

Thet Thet Khine is a competent MP – she served as a member of the Pyithu Hluttaw committee for banking and financial development – who enjoys a positive public profile, and it is reasonable to assume that her decision to form her own party could have adverse consequences for the NLD. Some politics watchers believe NLD candidates will struggle in some constituencies in 2020 if there is a decent alternative.

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It is instructive to consider the record of those who have previously left the NLD to compete against it. The first major split of recent times occurred before the 2010 general election. The former ruling military junta drafted a constitution that reflected its determination to retain control over the transition to what it said would be a “discipline flourishing democracy”.

The levers of control over the general election that marked the start of the transition included laws and institutions that reflected this determination. They included the political party registration and election laws, as well as hand-picked appointments to the election commission, all of which were counter to democratic norms.

The NLD reacted to this unfair titling of the playing field by deciding not to register as a party and ruling itself out of the election. NLD leader Daw Aung San Suu Kyi was under house arrest prior to the election and on polling day (she was released six days later). The NLD’s decision to effectively boycott the 2010 election caused dissension among some senior party leaders, including U Khin Maung Swe, U Than Nyein and U Thein Nyunt, who resigned and formed the National Democratic Force to participate in the ballot.

As a result of receiving financial support and capacity-building training arranged by a group of people who wanted the election to seem credible by ensuring voters had the opportunity to cast ballots for an opposition party, the NDF was able to register 163 candidates. Despite high expectations, it won only 16 seats – 12 at the national level and four in regional and state hluttaws.

After the military-aligned Union Solidarity and Development Party took office in 2011 under President U Thein Sein, negotiations with Aung San Suu Kyi resulted in the NLD’s decision to return to the political arena. In by-elections in 2012, the NLD contested 44 of 45 seats and won 43. Among the victors was the NLD’s leader, who had stood in the outer southwestern Yangon Region seat of Kawhmu. The result showed that the decision of senior party members to leave the party and form the NDF had no adverse effect on the popularity of the NLD.

By the time of the 2015 general election, Thein Nyunt and his followers had left the NDF and formed the New National Democracy Party, which fielded 27 candidates. The NDF fielded 274 candidates, but neither party won a single seat. Although led by prominent former NLD members, these two parties are in the political wilderness. Today they do little more than attend meetings called by the USDP and sign its joint statements.

The NLD leadership attracted considerable publicity, and some criticism, over decisions it took in the run-up to the 2015 vote involving candidate selection. U Ko Ko Gyi and other prominent leaders of the 88 Generation movement had declared that they wanted to stand for the NLD but were later rejected by its candidate selection committee. Also rejected was one of the NLD’s most popular MPs in the Yangon Region Hluttaw, Daw Nyo Nyo Thin, who enjoyed considerable public support because of her outspoken stand against corruption. She quit the NLD over its refusal to choose her as a candidate.

The rejection of these high-profile candidates created concern among some observers that the damage caused to the NLD’s image would affect its performance in the election. In the event, the NLD won in a landslide. Nyo Nyo Thin, who had sought election to the Pyithu Hluttaw as an independent candidate in Bahan Township, lost to the NLD candidate. Ko Ko Gyi and other 88 Generation leaders did not compete, and have since formed their own party.

Since the NLD came to power, some of its MPs elected in 2015 have resigned and formed their own parties. The effect of these moves on the NLD has been negligible.

If history is any guide, internal disagreements in the NLD will have little effect on public support for the party. It would therefore be unrealistic to expect that Thet Thet Khine’s decision to leave the NLD and form her own party will have much impact on the outcome of the 2020 election.

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