In Burmese Opposition There Will Be No Reform: Aung San Suu Kyi

In what must surely be a blow to the dwindling ranks of young and progressive supporters of the Burmese opposition National League for Democracy (NLD) the just-released figurehead of the movement, Aung San Suu Kyi has categorically ruled out any reorganization within the party's top ranks.

"We are not going to ask our older leaders to leave because they want to serve as long as they have strength to serve the party and I think that is a good thing to be encouraged," Daw Suu said in an interview with Agence France-Presse.

The hope and joy that was felt when Daw Suu was freed must certainly now be tinged with those familiar feelings of frustration and near despair that the rigid and ancient hierarchies within the party are set to remain in place -- indeed seemingly set in cement.

In Burma, respect is not primarily earned by actions and deeds. Simply hanging in for the long haul and getting old has traditionally demanded the respect of others. This is not to suggest that the dedication and commitment of many opposition apparatchiks is under question. But generational change is urgent according to the NLD's younger supporters who, despite the restrictions placed on them, know how to campaign via social media and often have displayed ideals and ideas very different from their elders.

"I think this should be the time to reform the party because party's future is our country's future," an exiled 31 year old journalist (and NLD supporter) told me. "Old people at the party ha(ve) endured all the disturbance from the regime strongly for the party for 2 decades. We see no significant changes made by the party to the country especially during (Daw Suu's) house arrest which means old people in the party had no idea how to deal with the regime without her. So rather than letting them rule the party, let the new flesh come in and the old people can surround them and support them as the old do not need to step down completely."

Interviewing or meeting senior members of the NLD has become a tiring task. While available and willing to talk, their world view can be (understandably) restricted and their views inflexible and arrogant. Recent wikileaks have shown that the US embassy in Rangoon has understood the limitations of the freedom campaign because of rigid, old fashioned rule-by-the-rod methods in place that have driven droves and droves on younger people from the NLD.

"The way the Uncles run the NLD indicates the party is not the last great hope for democracy and Burma," said a leaked cable. " ideas are not solicited or encouraged from younger members, and the Uncles regularly expel members they believe are 'too active'," it said.

The Central Executive Committee is the powerhouse that drives the NLD and is mostly populated by politicos over 80. Breathing new life into the CEC means creating a modern pragmatic platform that takes into account contemporary economic policies as well as human rights and democracy. But Daw Suu says there will be no reorganization of the CEC.

Daw Suu has called an opposition 'youth meeting' this month, but many remain pessimistic about her will to take ask the heroes of the past decades to step down.

But the growing discontent with the NLD has been obvious inside Burma for most of the past decade. It came to light internationally when, during the November elections, desperate discussions were held about the official boycott. Many argued that the NLD had to step up and be a part of the process -- however flawed and corrupted. They were dismissed out of hand and a breakaway group created the National Democratic Force in order to contest the elections (16 candidates were elected). There was -- and is -- a deep fury aimed at those who left to start up -- or vote for -- the NDF.

A young exile who had previously been a core NLD supporter, told the Huffington Post that he - and his entire family - had ignored the boycott and voted NDF because of the reluctance of the old guard to embrace the new world. "I rarely heard they are talking about economic issue, which is very important in the country. I have travelled around the country and met the farmers and ordinary citizen who emphasis better economic situation is priority for them. NLD should also advocate economic reforms, Land reforms and introduction of rural credit system for the farmers who are majority in the country," he said.

Daw Suu has her work cut out for her. Since her November 13 release her overtures to the arthritis riddled iron fists of generals that have been met with silence. She has held many peace talks within her own party and other opposition camps but has acknowledged that deep divisions remain. If she -- and the NLD -- fail to treat the fault lines within the opposition, the future for Burma will remain, indeed, grim.

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