THE BLOG
01/14/2014 04:49 pm ET Updated Mar 16, 2014

The New Face of Democracy: Nation-Wide Youth Congress to Take Place in Burma

Chinese state media has watched with fear what it calls "excessive and hasty" democratic change in Burma, arguing that democracy alone cannot solve all of the Southeast Asian country's problems. A commentary in China's Communist Party-run Global Times warned of what it called "Western-style democracy" in Burma.

Although democracy alone cannot resolve all of the problems in Burma, there is no better political system that can replace democracy in Burma. Although the Global Times fear of democracy is misplaced, it is important to address the fears that democracy in Burma may be delegitimized by the claims of a "Western-style democracy." It is a new generation of Burma's youth who can own democracy and claim it as their own. The upcoming nationwide Youth Congress in December or early January to be convened by the National League of Democracy (NLD), Burma's major opposition party headed by Aung San Suu Kyi can help youth engage in democracy and strengthen it as a home grown project.

In fact it is the younger generation's engagement in democracy building that can help steer Burma into security and stability, both economic and political. In my own engagement with my peers in Burma, I see how eager they to learn about models of democracy and engage in democracy. Recently, the Economist wrote an article on what I see in all my work in Burma: youth crowding together, cross legged on bare floors in the NLD offices, producing weekly media updates on outdated computers, to be sent to NLD MPs and party leaders. It is the youth with their skills and energy that is the key to Burma's future and stable democracy.

My peers in Burma are coming of age at a time of burgeoning democracy in their country. Unlike to their elders to whom democracy is foreign, these youth consider democracy a legitimate part of who they are and their future. Although these youth do not have mentors versed in democracy who can train them, they have an unmatched role model in Aung San Suu Kyi who relentlessly strove for democracy, fearlessly undergoing years of house arrest.

While some have criticized that NLD is hamstrung by party elders, engaged youth provide the greatest human capital. As the Economist states: "Younger NLD members have realised that it is up to them to professionalise the party." It is youth engagement that can disprove the claim of a Western style of democracy.

It is the youth who can bring new ideas to the table and spark change. Aung San Suu Kyi knows this better than anyone else. Although the youth congress was first suggested by Aung San Suu Kyi in 2003, while still under house arrest, it was approved by the NLD national assembly in March 2013. The youth will be drawn from the 16 to 35 age groups which will allow youth who are coming of age in a more open Burma to engage in democracy building. The hope is that the youth can help to revitalize the old guard of the party in anticipation of the 2015 elections. The youth congress is not just important to NLD to counteract the accusations of a graying leadership out of touch with modernity but to the future of democracy in Burma.