The party of Aung San Suu Kyi has rejected bids by 17 members of Myanmar’s respected “88 generation” to join its ranks and contest November’s election, a controversial omission of a group that was expected to galvanise its bid to dominate the ballot.
The National League for Democracy (NLD) party selected only one member of the popular crop of activists, who suffered years of persecution after leading nationwide student protests in 1988 that were brutally crushed by the ruling military.
Their rebellion mushroomed into a pro-democracy uprising that thrust Suu Kyi, the daughter of late independence hero Aung San, into Myanmar’s political spotlight.
The most high-profile exclusion was the charismatic protest leader Ko Ko Gyi, who spent more than 17 years in and out of prison before his 2012 release. He declined to comment.
Some experts said the decision risks dividing groups that have a shared vision of a more democratic Myanmar under which the military, which is guaranteed three ministerial positions and a quarter of legislative seats, has no political role.
Pyone Cho was the sole member of the group selected to represent the party in the ballot. The NLD received 3,000 applications and will field 1,090 candidates.
The NLD’s candidate list does include several intellectuals and activists, including free speech advocate Nay Phone Latt and Susanna Hla Hla Soe, who heads a female empowerment group.
Party spokesman Nyan Win said it was the prerogative of the NLD’s Central Executive Committee to choose who it wanted for its members of parliament.
“We are choosing the most suitable MPs for the country,” he said. “Everyone have the right to apply as candidates but the committee need to choose the best people.”
Among those absent from the list were rector of Yangon University Aung Thu, a democracy activist who is pushing for education reform, and Nyo Nyo Thin, a prominent lawmaker in the Yangon regional parliament.
Political analyst and National Youth Congress member Thet Swe Win said the NLD’s exclusion of most 88 generation applicants would fragment the pro-reform camp.
It meant prominent people now had a race against time to register by the Aug. 8 deadline to form a new party or run as independents, he said.
“This is an insult and their decision will make the opposition force shatter,” he said. “It’s such a shame for them to make this kind of decision without even thinking for the country.”