Suu Kyi's ex-allies form new party
Former members of Myanmar's opposition party allowed to register ahead of elections.
Last Modified: 10 Jul 2010 12:44 GMT
The NLD refused to re-register in May, a move that would have forced it to expel Suu Kyi, pictured [AFP]

Former members of Myanmar's officially disbanded opposition party, the National League for Democracy (NLD), have been given permission to form a new party.

The National Democratic Force (NDF), as the new party is calling itself, will field candidates in much criticised elections due to be held later this year, according to state TV and radio.

"It's a victory for the people," Khin Maung Swe, one of the leaders of the new party, said on Saturday.

"I'm glad for the people because we can officially strive for democracy."

The NLD, which was led by Nobel peace laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, officially ceased to exist after officials refused to meet a May 6 deadline to re-register the party.

Instead the party opted to boycott the elections, which will be the country's first in two decades but have been criticised as a sham aimed at legitimising the country's military rulers.

In April, Myanmar's prime minister and at least 22 other ministers retired from their military posts in a move seen as preparing for the ruling generals to sit as a civilian government.

Opposition differences

Nyan Win, a long-time NLD spokesman and lawyer for Suu Kyi, said he had "nothing to say" about the NDF's participation in the vote.

"It's their own decision. We've to see what they'll really do. The government also recently said it was working for democracy"

Nyan Win, NLD spokesman

"It's their own decision. We've to see what they'll really do," Nyan Win told the AFP news agency.

"The government also recently said it was working for democracy."

But in a sign of growing discord within the opposition movement, former senior NLD members have accused the NDF of copying their symbol of a bamboo hat and recently lodged a complaint with the election commission about its use of the image.

Khin Maung Swe said the NDF would not remove the hat from its official seal.

"Our symbol is a golden bamboo hat and two stars," he said.

"As we were allowed to be a registered political party, we will officially form our central committee in the coming week."

However, Dr Than Nyein, the new party's chairman, played down talk of differences with the former leadership of the NLD, praising Suu Kyi and saying many activists still supported her.

"Aung San Suu Kyi is a real idol of democracy," he said. "We will always respect and admire her courage, her belief and sacrifice."

Struggle for support

Aung Zaw, the editor of the Irrawaddy news magazine, which focuses on affairs in Myanmar, said that the NDF's policies were unclear and he expected it to struggle to win votes with dozens of other parties already registered.

"The NDF cannot garner the support of people," he told Al Jazeera from the Czech capital, Prague.

"Last week they held a rally [and] very few people turned up to listen to the NDF."

So far 38 political parties out of 43 which applied to be recognised have been given permission to register ahead of the elections.

The NLD, which was founded in 1988 after a popular uprising against the military government that left thousands dead, won a landslide victory in elections in 1990 but the military refused to relinquish power.

Suu Kyi, who won a Nobel prize for her dedication to non-violence in pressing for political reforms, has spent much of the past 20 years in jail or house arrest.

Under election legislation introduced in March, anyone serving a prison term is banned from being a member of a political party and parties that fail to obey the rule are abolished.

Suu Kyi had her jail term extended by 18 months in August last year after being convicted over a bizarre incident in which a US man swam to her lakeside home, making her unable to stand in the planned polls.

Al Jazeera and agencies
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