RANGOON—A group of young activists has set up the National League for Democracy’s (NLD) first research unit, enlisting high-profile international names for training as Burma’s main opposition party seeks to improve the lack of clear policy direction ahead of elections in 2015.
With so many of the party’s members thrown in prison, hiding underground or forced into exile during the past 25 years, the NLD faces a huge challenge in educating its cadres about conditions in Burma and drafting policies in time for the elections.
The NLD was criticised for failing to hold any discussions on policy during its first-ever party congress earlier this month. The young activists in the new research unit hope to start addressing the problem.
A core group of 10 volunteers, working from the NLD headquarters and one of their apartments in central Rangoon, has gathered 32 more activists from around the country to learn about agriculture, economics and transitional politics, while also collecting data and poring over as much research material as they can find.
“The NLD has enough members, but when it comes to capacity, there are many problems,” said Nay Chi Win, who is leading the party’s research department. “We need to educate ourselves and our party very quickly. We are not academics, but we want to do something for our party.”
To get the project off the ground, Nay Chi Win enlisted the help of long-time friend Benedict Rogers, a human rights activist with Christian Solidarity Worldwide and author of several books on Burma.
In turn, Rogers convinced several high-profile figures, including Australian economist Sean Turnell and former ambassadors from Britain and the Czech Republic to visit Rangoon and teach classes for the group.
“I asked Ben to find people who want to help Burma and won’t just come and ask for Aung San Suu Kyi’s autograph,” said Nay Chi Win. “I told him not to ask what we need—we don’t know about the outside world, we don’t have capacity. We just need help.”
The volunteers travel to Rangoon once a month for the classes. After six months, they are told to find another batch to start training, and to begin conducting surveys in their local area.
“The priority right now is to learn about agriculture and land confiscation,” said Nay Chi Win “We also ask international NGOs for reports, we read and analyze them and then we submit our findings to the senior leadership.”
Rogers said the project was vital to the future of Aung San Suu Kyi’s party. “Any political party needs policy research to feed into its politics, as well as development of its future leaders. A lot of preparation is definitely needed for the NLD before 2015 and there is not much time.
“The NLD is often criticised for not doing enough on policy, but given where they came from, it is quite remarkable that they have come to where they are today. That gives me hope that they can develop further,” he said.