More than 130 National League for Democracy (NLD) members have resigned in protest of alleged “cronyism” within its leadership over the selection of members to help organise the party’s upcoming national convention.
Grassroots members in the Irrawaddy division’s Bassein township have accused the NLD of selecting members with close personal ties to its leadership over long-serving members for the convention’s organising commission. The commission is set to appoint local representatives to participate in the party’s upcoming national convention.
Dr Than Htike, who worked with the NLD since the 1990s, said the mass resignation on 26 October aimed to raise awareness among the party’s leadership about ongoing dissatisfaction at the local level.
“Some central leaders are not aware of the complaints from local members so we wanted to get their attention,” said Than Htike. “If the leading members continue to only do what their aides say, there will be dissension and disunity in the party, which will cause it to split.”
Dissent within the NLD has been on the rise since the summer. In August, NLD veterans Than Win, Nyunt Hlaing, Than Htike and 300 other local members held a press conference in Bassein township, accusing the party’s central committee of undemocratic practices. The NLD subsequently suspended all three and closed the NLD campaign office in Bassein.
Hundreds of members have also taken to the streets in Twante and Myaungmya townships to protest perceived favouritism in the upper echelons of the NLD, with similar accusation made in Thone Kwa township in Rangoon.
The party’s Lower House MP in Bassein, Win Myint, said that the leadership has been aware of growing irritation among local members since Aung San Suu Kyi visited the flood-hit area this summer.
But the NLD insists that none of the party member in Bassein have effectively communicated their grievances.
“We don’t know what they were upset about apart from that they didn’t get appointments in the Convention Organisation Commission,” said Kyaw Ho of the NLD’s Irrawaddy Division Convention Organising Commission. “For now, we don’t know how many people resigned because we haven’t received any list or notification about it.”
Suu Kyi has previously accused dissenting members of “misus[ing] free speech for their own interests.”
“We cannot misuse the privilege of having the right to do what we want. Nor can we say whatever we want, even if we have the right to say it,” she told party members. “We must think before we speak about whether or not our speech is right.”
According to the NLD, Than Htike and other local members refused to hand over the disputed campaign office so the NLD declared it was no longer recognised by the party. Local members also met with NLD co-founder U Win Tin on 13 October but failed to reach an agreement. Than Htike says NLD patron U Tin Oo then ordered its closure on 20 October, despite their requests to reconsider.
“We told them that we would agree to leave the office and resign from the party but requested not to close down the office in order to let the youth members continue working in the office,” said Than Htike.
“But they said: ‘The youth members in this office are hot-headed’ and ‘Uncle Tin Oo ordered us before he left town to go and remove the NLD signboard from the office’”.
The disputed campaign office was opened ahead of this year’s by-elections, where the NLD secured 43 out of 44 contested seats in parliament.
Than Htike said the resigned NLD members are planning to form a new group called the Network for National Democracy.
This is not the first time factionalism has lead to defections within the NLD’s ranks. High-ranking members who disagreed with Suu Kyi’s boycott of the November 2010 polls controversially split to form the National Democratic Force party.
-Ko Htwe and Ye Thu contributed reporting.