(Editorial) – November 18, 2011, will go down as D-Day for not only the National League for Democracy (NLD) but for all the pro-democracy opposition forces and the people of Burma. For the past 23 years, the people have fought and died for a more democratic Burma.
The Nobel Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi’s NLD party took an historic step by deciding to register as a legal political party and to resume its role as the country’s most successful democratic party.
The vote by the 106 NLD central committee members was unanimous, although a small conservative minority still argues that it is too early to recognize real reform and trust the new government formed by President Thein Sein, a former general.
However, everyone agrees that Suu Kyi can play an important role in the process of moving democracy forward.
Clearly, there are signs of a thaw. The main opposition party's re-registration will speed up the pace of change, and the release of more political prisoners including the 88-generation student leaders and ethnic group leaders. It is a predictable bargaining chip between the government and the opposition. Observers say a prisoner release could come before the December visit of U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
Moreover, this will go down as the year Burma gained its first-ever chairmanship of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean), a sign the government may be ready to assume a less combative role in regional affairs and join the march toward economic integration.
Earlier, political drama surrounded the NLD’s intra-party debate over taking part in the 2010 parliamentary election. Debates within and outside the party were fierce over its decision not to re-register, which led some top party leaders to break away from the NLD to form a new political party, the National Democratic Force, which won 16 parliamentary seats in the 2010 November election. For the NLD to take part in the election, it would have had to disown its members who were in prison for their political beliefs, because of an election law that banned convicts from being members of political parties or voting.
Nevertheless, the pace of positive change has continued, including Suu Kyi meeting President Thien Sein and having dinner with his family. That was followed by the release of more political prisoners, a slight loosening of media censorship, and a stop to the government policy requiring armed ethnic groups to join its Border Guard Force.
Serious, unresolved issues still confront Burma, such as the military campaign against Kachin ethnic armed groups and regular violations of human rights are still widespread. Hundreds of political prisoners still languish in Burma’s jails. The government must resolve these issues as soon as possible to achieve full national reconciliation.
The NLD will now field candidates in the by-election, which could be held in December. The next logical step is for opposition parties to come together to form an effective coalition that can put pressure in Parliament on the Union Solidarity and Development Party, which is a surrogate for the previous military regime.
The NLD decision was not a compromise or a U-turn by Suu Kyi and the NLD, but rather another chapter in its on-going political dream. Suu Kyi said recently this is the "beginning of the beginning."
The coming challenges include amending the undemocratic 2008 Constitution, stopping the bloodshed and human rights violations in ethnic areas and empowering the Burmese people to reignite the country’s economy. It is a dream worth fighting for in the political arena.