Aung San Suu Kyi

Suu Kyi reappointed head of Myanmar's NLD

Opposition resists calls for new blood at the top, but recognises the need to cast its net wider

PUBLISHED : Monday, 11 March, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 11 March, 2013, 5:21am

Aung San Suu Kyi has been re-elected as Myanmar opposition leader at a landmark congress that stopped short of sweeping changes in its ageing top ranks ahead of key elections in 2015.

Hundreds of opposition members gathered in Yangon this weekend for their first national conference.

The meeting highlighted the myriad challenges facing the opposition, including its lack of experience as well as internal divisions that saw four members banned from attending, accused of trying to influence the voting.

Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy (NLD) had faced calls to inject new blood into its top ranks, dominated by senior members including some in their 80s and 90s, as it eyes key elections due to be held in 2015.

But it held back from a substantial revamp of its leadership, instead selecting veteran party members to a core executive of 15 and unanimously reappointing Suu Kyi as chairwoman.

"We have to seize the chance," Suu Kyi, who entered parliament last year, urged the party as it gears up for what is expected to be a major victory if the 2015 vote is free and fair.

"I thank the members who struggled hand in hand with the NLD for 25 years, and I also welcome our new members," she said. "A party can be energetic if it's refreshed with new blood all the time."

After being sidelined by Myanmar's military rulers for two decades, the party entered the political mainstream last year as a result of sweeping reforms initiated by a new reformist government.

Although it is 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.

"They could not take power over the country tomorrow. They are not ready. They have a lack of capacity," said a Western diplomat who did not want to be named.

Fault lines have also been detected between the older top party officials and a younger generation eager to help steer the party as Myanmar enters a new era. NLD spokesman Han Tha Myint said the party recognised the need to promote younger activists gradually.

"That's why we have decided that the capacity of our youth must be built up and we must recruit some competent people from outside."

The NLD faces the financial and political might of President Thein Sein's Union Solidarity and Development Party.

Suu Kyi, 67, has said she is ready to become president if the NLD takes power, but a constitutional rule now bars her from the role as she was married to a Briton and has two sons who are foreign nationals. The NLD says it now has 1.3 million members across the country.