Suu Kyi furious at comrades' new party

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The Independent Online

The Burmese opposition leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, has reacted with surprising anger to the decision of her former colleagues to form a breakaway party and contest the upcoming polls.

Ms Suu Kyi, whose National League for Democracy (NLD) last month announced that it had decided to boycott controversial elections planned by the junta for later this year, termed the move "undemocratic". Because of new rules imposed by the authorities, any party not participating in the polls had to disband.

The decision, voted on by senior members after the Nobel laureate made clear she believed the NLD should not take part, was technically unanimous. But it quickly emerged that a number of NLD members disagreed with the move and the day after the NLD's formal dissolution, several members announced they were setting up a new party.

The party, headed by a veteran politician, Dr Than Nyein, and called the National Democratic Force (NDF), plans to participate in the polls later this year.

But the 64-year-old Ms Suu Kyi, who has spent 14 of the past 20 years under house arrest, has apparently voiced her displeasure at the decision of some of her colleagues.

According to her lawyer, Nyan Win, one of the few people allowed to visit her at her lakeside home in Rangoon, Ms Suu Kyi said: "The minority going against the decision unanimously reached by the majority is against democratic practice."

The NLD's decision, announced in late March, was presented as a unanimous vote by the senior members and had been taken because it would have forced the party to oust Ms Suu Kyi, because she is technically in jail. Loud cheering was said to have broken out.

Yet, as a result of the decision, when the party failed to register for the forthcoming polls by the deadline of May 7, the NLD was automatically disbanded. It has since emerged that several senior voices within the NLD argued against the decision and felt the party that won the last free election in 1990 by a landslide, only for the junta to ignore the result, should continue to exist.

Following Ms Suu Kyi's reported comments regarding her displeasure over what has happened, members of the breakaway party have defended their actions. Dr Nyein, the leader of the newly formed NDF, told the Irrawaddy website that Ms Suu Kyi should understand the right of individuals to form a new party.

"We formed a new party only after the NLD officially ceased to exist. As individuals, we have the right to do so. As a democrat, she should understand us," he said, adding that he and other NDF leaders believe in the need to have a political party to continue the democratic struggle.

Ms Suu Kyi's comments were echoed by another former senior NLD leader, Win Tin, who said: "I think [she] is right. When the party made its decision not to register, we used the words 'the consensus without any objection'. So we are not pleased with the new party."

Dr Nyein, however, said the NDF is not an NLD splinter group because the NLD party no longer exists by law. To date, thirty-seven political parties have registered with the election commission to contest this year's election. Critics of the poll claim it will merely further entrench the role of the military within Burmese society. Ms Suu Kyi and her party would most likely have contested the polls had her term of house arrest not been extended after an uninvited American swam to her lakeside home, thereby breaching the terms of her detention.

Derek Tonkin, a former British diplomat in South-east Asia and head of the Myanmar Network, said: "It's quite clear the NLD took the decision to boycott the election out of respect for Ms Suu Kyi. But it is quite clear that there was a difference of opinion."

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