Burma’s biggest opposition party, the National League for Democracy (NLD), expects to hold its first nationwide youth congress in December or early January to encourage the emergence of young leaders.
A youth congress has been an aspiration of the party’s leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, since her days under house arrest during the former military regime. The idea received more backing this year after the NLD held a national assembly of about 900 members in March—also a first for the party, which was outlawed before a nominally civilian government came to power in 2011.
The NLD wants to revitalize ahead of the 2015 national elections and has been urged to develop a younger generation of leaders, as many of its current central leaders are in their 70s and 80s.
Suu Kyi, who was elected to Parliament last year, has her eye on the presidency in 2015. But the 68-year-old has also been called on to strengthen other leadership in the party, as the Constitution currently bars her from becoming president.
Maung Maung Oo, chairman of the committee organizing the youth congress, told The Irrawaddy on Tuesday that despite some delays with preparations, the party aimed to hold the youth congress in December or early January. Smaller committees were established in some states and divisions last month to help plan for the event, he said.
“So far, 75 percent of organizing committees have been formed nationwide,” he said, adding that the rest would be formed by mid-September.
For three months after that, he said, the committees would spread the word about the youth congress and attempt to recruit new members. New members are already being recruited in Chin State, where all organizing committees for the congress have already been formed, he added.
Party members aged 16 to 35 can attend the congress, along with non-party youths of the same age range. It is not yet known how many delegates will be invited to attend.
The NLD was founded during the 1988 pro-democracy movement and quickly attracted many young members to support Suu Kyi. The party won a landslide victory in the 1990 election, but the military government refused to honor the outcome. Suu Kyi and many party members were detained as political prisoners for years.
After the quasi-civilian government came to power, the NLD won almost all available seats in by-elections in April last year, and Suu Kyi and 42 NLD colleagues entered Parliament.
At the national assembly in March, the NLD gathered to elect new party leaders. Suu Kyi was unanimously re-elected as party chairman while veteran party members were chosen to fill a core executive committee of 15 people.
Win Tin, co-founder and patron of the NLD, said founding members supported the development of a new generation of leaders but added that they were no longer involved in the party’s day-to-day affairs, only offering suggestions.
“More youths are needed in the party,” he said. “When the party began, many young people came to support Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, so the party was attractive to young people.
“I believe youth forces can create a strength in the party in the future that goes beyond Daw Aung San Suu Kyi.”
On the question of whether more young NLD candidates would contest seats in Parliament in the 2015 elections, he declined to comment.
Dr. Yan Myo Thein, a political commentator for local journals, has a different perspective on the NLD youth congress. Though he sees benefits in an assembly of youths, he said he was concerned that the organizing committee might not fairly select delegates for the congress.
“The members of the committee should be loyal and act in the party’s interests,” he said. “If not, it [the congress] will not benefit the party’s future. I heard sometimes that committee members only recognized people who were close to them. It shouldn’t be this way this time.”