RANGOON — Burma’s main opposition party, the National League for Democracy (NLD), and a major group of former students who led the country’s 1988 uprising have agreed to work together toward constitutional reform before elections next year.
NLD Chairperson Aung San Suu Kyi has been leading a campaign to have the military-drafted 2008 Constitution amended. The charter guarantees the military a role in national politics and 25 percent of parliamentary seats, bars Suu Kyi from becoming president and is opposed by ethnic leaders who want a federalist system in Burma.
Suu Kyi will now have the help of The 88 Generation Peace and Open Society, a political organization born out of the student-led uprising of 1988 that almost toppled the government and brought Suu Kyi to prominence.
In a joint statement Monday, the NLD and the 88 Generation said they had been working together toward democracy for 25 years, and would join their efforts to ensure a transition to “real democracy” by amending the charter.
While the association between the two groups is not new, they have not formally cooperated in political activities since a program of democratic and economic reforms was begun by the government of President Thein Sein in 2011. But two meetings between leaders recently have brought about a combination of the two groups’ efforts.
Jimmy, an 88 Generation leader, said the groups were combining forces because constitutional reform is vital.
“Actually, we’ve had a relationship since 1988, now we’re increasing our activities by agreeing to work together to amend the Constitution because many people are indicating that it should be amended right now,” he said.
He sought to clarify that the 88 Generation would remain separate from the NLD, but would simply work toward the same end.
“Our group and the NLD central executive committee member will be discussing in more detail how we’re going to work toward amending the Constitution, but now I still can’t give detailed plans,” he said.
Both groups wanted to work with “peace and justice” to amend the Constitution, he added.
Nyan Win, a member of the NLD’s central executive committee said it made sense to work together since the groups have a shared goal.
“We can’t still talk about detailed planning because we have to wait and see what the Parliament’s review committee for the Constitution does, and what the Union Parliament will decide for this,” he said.
Parliament’s Joint Constitutional Review Committee reported in January that most of the more than 28,000 responses it received from the public, civil society, political parties and government departments were in favor of reforming the most controversial articles of the 2008 Constitution. The committee’s report also, however, noted that it received a petition with more than 100,000 signatures opposing the changes.
A new implementation committee has now been formed by Parliament to decide on what should be changed in the Constitution, if anything.
Moe Thway, the leader of youth activist group Generation Wave said he welcomed the cooperation between the NLD and the 88 Generation.
“Daw Aung San Suu Kyi is trying inside the Parliament and other groups are doing activities outside, so its means both groups are campaigning for amending the Constitution,” he said.
“In my view, this 2008 Constitution must be amended because it was written without the voices of various groups, including the ethnic armed groups, the NLD and other opposition parties.”