BANGKOK, THAILAND —
Burma's opposition National League for Democracy
this month (March 8-10) is holding its first party congress since winning seats in parliament last year. Critics say the NLD, and leader Aung San Suu Kyi, need to re-focus on the party's principles after a year during which they rarely challenged the government.
Former political prisoner Aung San Suu Kyi's historic election raised hopes she, and the National League for Democracy, would become vocal opponents of Burma’s rights abuses.
But after siding with public opinion against the Rohingya, a stateless Muslim minority, and failing to condemn military aggression against Kachin rebels, critics say they are compromising their principles.
Aung San Suu Kyi is no longer a rights advocate but a politician, says deputy Asia director for Human Rights Watch
"Her last comment that she couldn't really intervene unless she was invited by the government to do so and that she was on the wrong parliamentary committee to take up these kind of issues is really the sort of excuse that one would expect from a second-rate politician rather than a Nobel Peace Prize winner," he said.
NLD lawmakers make up less than ten percent of the military-dominated parliament - far too few votes to challenge the military-backed majority. But critics say they have not used their public platform to press for change.
Regional political analyst Thitinan Pongsudhirak says the NLD risks conceding too much.
"Making compromises is one thing," he said. "Being co-opted is another. And, I think she and the NLD have to be very careful not to be co-opted by the cronies, the military, including the president's team and his government. It's a very tricky balancing act."
NLD spokesman Nyan Win denies the party has failed to aggressively challenge authorities.
"The NLD has been challenging the policies of the government from the time it entered the by-election until now. The biggest challenge is that the NLD called for amending the constitution, which is the most important thing for the current government. The NLD is finding ways to achieve its goals," he said.
There have also been internal divisions in the NLD over power sharing between older and younger members.
In central Myin Gyan (myin gin) township hundreds protested at the party office over allegations the election commission rigged an internal party election.
Protest leader Ko Ko Aung says they refused to allow 7,000 younger members to vote, demonstrating that the NLD is losing its way.
"We have complained about the unfairness of the commission to the central committee authorities. They dissolved the commission. However, they endorsed the commission's unfair election result," he said.
NLD spokesman Nyan Win dismisses the controversy as bickering among members.
But he says the party congress will focus on making the NLD more democratic and electing educated, younger, and female leaders.
He says it may also result in a re-evaluation of some party principles.