RANGOON — Burma’s leading opposition party on Sunday distanced itself from an outspoken education reform advocate who serves on the party’s central executive committee.
In a public statement, the National League for Democracy (NLD) said that Thein Lwin, a spokesperson for the National Network for Education Reform (NNER), is not representative of the party or its policies during quadripartite discussions about education reform.
The statement warned that the NLD could take legal action against Thein Lwin, a temporary member of the NLD central executive committee, for violating party rules requiring committee approval for involvement in organizations independent of the party.
Thein Lwin was unavailable for comment on the party’s remarks.
His fellow committee member and NLD spokesperson Win Myint told The Irrawaddy on Monday that the party issued the statement to clarify that Thein Lwin’s participation in the education reform dialogue does not constitute NLD endorsement.
“He can’t represent the NLD while going to that meeting,” said Win Myint, referring to a meeting between student activists, the NNER, lawmakers and government ministers held on Sunday in Rangoon.
The first such quadripartite discussion followed weeks of swelling demonstrations against the National Education Law, passed in September 2014 amid wide-ranging criticism.
The spokesperson explained that party rules expressly prohibit involvement in independent political organizations without central committee approval, which was not sought by Thein Lwin for his role in the NNER.
“He attended that meeting by himself,” said Win Myint.
Neither the statement nor the spokesperson elaborated on what kind of “legal action” could be sought against Thein Lwin.
Citing NLD central committee member Han Thar Myint, the Democratic Voice of Burma reported on Monday that the party’s chairperson, Aung San Suu Kyi, personally disapproved of Thein Lwin’s participation on the grounds that he could be construed as representative of the party.
The Action Committee for Democratic Education (ACDE), a 15-member alliance formed amid the growing student protest movement, countered with a statement of its own accusing the NLD of attempting to disrupt the student movement at a critical moment.
The ACDE said that Thein Lwin was invited to the discussions not because of his party affiliation but because he is a credible expert and a long-standing supporter of educational progress in Burma.
The statement criticized the NLD’s timing, claiming that it aimed to “indirectly” object to student protests and could delay further discussions, which the NNER is expected to attend.
Nyo Nyo Thin, a member of the NNER, also defended Thein Lwin’s involvement in the educational reform dialogue, suggesting that the NLD’s remarks were misguided and ill-intentioned.
“Dr. Thein Lwin’s involvement in this discussion is as an expert, not a representative of the NLD. He is using his knowledge for the benefit of the country,” she told The Irrawaddy. “We welcome him as he stands by us, and what he has done should [be viewed] as a source of pride for the NLD.”
Thein Lwin has been a recurrent figure in the education reform movement since its nascent stages, having worked with the NNER since it was formed in 2012. He and the NNER were vocal critics of the National Education Law long before its passage.
The legislation was passed by Parliament in July 2014, then sent back to the floor by President Thein Sein with 25 suggested amendments. Despite strong criticism from education experts and activists, the law was passed in September after Parliament accepted 19 of the president’s amendments.
Students representing more than 300 organizations nationwide protested in several parts of the country beginning in November. Demonstrators claimed that the legislation would fail to raise educational standards, grant too much centralized control to the government and restrict the formation of student and teachers unions.
After a temporary hiatus, demonstrations resumed on Jan. 20, when hundreds of students and supporters set off by foot from Mandalay to Rangoon. The march was paused on Feb. 1 as student leaders attended initial quadripartite discussions with other stakeholders in Rangoon, where they agreed to a framework for continued dialogue geared toward amending the controversial law.
Talks will continue of Feb. 3, when stakeholders will reconvene in Naypyidaw to begin addressing 11 demands set by student activists.