RANGOON—Leaders of Burma’s prominent activist group 88 Generation Students said they plan to form a political party to work for democratization, peace and reconciliation in the country. Some in the group however, expressed doubts about joining Burmese party politics.
Although no clear time frame has been set for the plan, the new party is likely to compete in the 2015 national elections.
Min Zay Ya, one of the 88 leaders, said the group would continue to focus on strengthening civil society organizations in Burma, but after 2013 they planned to expand their activities and enter Burmese politics.
“Our group will be working as a political party on one side and as an NGO on the other. We all have agreed on that,” said Min Za Ya. “We certainly have a two-way basic principle, but it is just a preliminary stage at the moment.”
From next year onwards, he said, the popular group would hold meetings to form a political party and decide on a future program for the organization.
According to other reports, the group might even form a party sooner. Htay Kywe, another 88 leader, told the BBC earlier this week that a political organization representing the 88 Generation Students group is likely to emerge this year.
He also said the group wants to see inclusive political reforms in Burma that would allow for political participation of Burmese refugees, exiled political activists and ethnic minorities, many of which are still caught up in decades-long armed rebellions against the central government.
However, according to 88 leader Soe Htun, the group’s members are divided on whether they should enter Burmese politics, with some favoring a focus on only arts, literature and social activities.
“I still don’t want to switch to party politics at all. We still have many things to learn,” said Soe Htun. He added that Min Ko Naing, the most prominent of the group’s leaders, often talked about his interest in promoting literature and arts, and conducting activities to strengthen civil society organizations.
The 88 Generation Students are a loosely organized group of activists who rose to prominence during the 1988 pro-democracy uprising in Burma, which was brutally crushed by the then military regime.
They have been advocating for political reforms, democratization and national peace and reconciliation in Burma. The group’s members spent years in prison during different periods and many were only released in early 2012.
Some of Burma’s current opposition parties welcomed the news that the 88 Student Generation group would form a political organization, saying it would further strengthen the country’s democratization process and create a more pluralistic political landscape.
“In late 2011, I asked them to come into the political arena,” said Win Tin, a veteran politician and co-founder of the main opposition party, the National League for Democracy (NLD).
“I asked them to join the NLD. Even if they can’t ride the same boat with us, I asked them to be part of the same journey. I welcome their plan to form a political party. It is a good thing.”
Zay Ya, a senior organizer for the Democratic Party for a New Society, also supported the idea of the 88 Generation Students leaders becoming politicians.
“I didn’t know about it before but I think is a good idea anyway,” said Zay Ya, adding that the group should create a clear political program before entering Burmese politics. “It is better to speak out clearly before doing anything,” he said.