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Thursday, 21 March, 2002, 15:36 GMT
Burma's opposition slowly rises from ashes
Rangoon street scene, March 2002
Young people are turning away from the NLD
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By Larry Jagan in Rangoon
BBC regional analyst
Burma's democratic opposition is becoming a hub of activity, amid hope of a breakthrough in talks between its leader Aung San Suu Kyi and the military regime.

The National League for Democracy (NLD) is trying to prepare the ground for it to function as a vibrant political party when Burma eventually gains full political freedom.

The party convincingly won the 1990 elections but the generals never allowed it to take power.

Aung San Suu Kyi
The NLD needs Aung San Suu Kyi
But since Aung San Suu Kyi and the junta started secretive talks more than 18 months, ago the NLD has been allowed to operate more freely.

Before then its members were harassed and their movements restricted. Now local NLD officials from provincial and rural committees can freely visit the central headquarters in Rangoon.

"There are committees preparing policy on health, education, defence and the economy," says the NLD spokesman U Lwin. "But our most important task is to reopen all our offices in Rangoon and the divisional headquarters throughout the country."

Nearly all the Rangoon offices have been reopened and several others in Mandalay, the country's second largest town. The NLD hopes to open many of its divisional headquarters in the next few weeks.

Membership crisis

Allowing the NLD to function is all part of the dialogue process.

"It's Aung San Suu Kyi's main priority at present," says a western diplomat in Rangoon who does not want to be identified.

U Lwin, NLD
U Lwin admits the party has problems
There is no doubt that the NLD remains popular throughout the country. But its support seems to be more for their charismatic leader Aung San Suu Kyi than for the party itself.

The party would be nothing without her, NLD leaders admit privately.

"It's a great burden and responsibility for her to carry," says a Rangoon-based diplomat.

"But she has the character, fortitude and vision to do it."

Nevertheless there are growing concerns about the NLD leadership as a whole. The other three top leaders - U Lwin, Aung Shwe and Tin Oo - are all in their seventies.

"There really is no one within the NLD who could replace Aung San Suu Kyi," one western diplomat in Rangoon said.


And unlike the military, which is carefully grooming junior officers to succeed them, there is little succession planning within the opposition.

We're frustrated by constantly being told to be patient and trust our leader

young NLD member
U Lwin admits that membership is falling.

"We once attracted the students, but we now have great difficulty in interesting them in joining us," he says.

There has been resentment among young NLD activists over the past 10 years that Aung San Suu Kyi has appeared to favour the old guard.

And there is growing impatience within in younger, rank-and-file party supporters that the dialogue process is progressing too slowly. They want more transparency.

"We're frustrated by constantly being told to be patient and trust our leader," says one young NLD member.

The divide between the NLD inside Burma and the opposition groups outside the country, like the National Coalition Government of the Union of Burma (NCGUB), is even more stark.

The NCGUB refuse to believe the military is sincere in wanting political change and is only stringing out the process to deflect international pressure.

U Lwin insists the dialogue process is going through a delicate stage, but progress is being made - albeit very slowly.

See also:

19 Mar 02 | Asia-Pacific
Analysis: Burma's secret talks
02 May 01 | Asia-Pacific
Inside Burma: Opposition fights on
30 Jan 02 | Asia-Pacific
Aung San Suu Kyi meets Burma general
12 Feb 02 | Asia-Pacific
Analysis: Burma's generals feel the heat
10 Dec 01 | Asia-Pacific
Burma's military 'supports democracy'
05 Dec 01 | Asia-Pacific
Burma's slow road to reform
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