Burma’s 88 Generation Students Seeks Legal Status

By Lawi Weng 27 May 2013

RANGOON—One of Burma’s most prominent activist networks, the 88 Generation Students Group, will apply to register with the government as a legal civil society organization after decades of operating illegally under the former military junta.

The group, which takes its name from the 1988 student-led pro-democracy protests, has long sought legal status in the country, but its leaders, many of whom were imprisoned under the former regime, have never before tried to register because they believed the government would deny their application.

Now, two years after President Thein Sein took office and initiated a series of political reforms, the group plans to apply for registration next month as an organization to promote national reconciliation and stronger civil society groups in the transition from military rule.

“We believe the power of the country needs to come from the people, and that’s why we decided to become a Peace and Open Civil Society organization,” Ant Bwe Kyaw, a spokesman for the group, told The Irrawaddy on Monday, adding that the group hoped to work on a broad range of social issues with government permission but would also continue its political activism.

“They [the government] will decide whether to register us or not,” he added. “On our end, we’ll keep doing politics, because we believe there should be a political force outside of Parliament.

Under Burmese law, organizations working on social issues cannot get involved in politics.

The 88 Generation Students Group is a loose network of activists who rose to prominence after the 1988 pro-democracy uprising, which was brutally crushed by the military regime. Since then the group has advocated for political reform, democracy and national reconciliation in Burma. Many of the group’s members spent years in detention as political prisoners and were only released early last year.

With legal status, the group hopes to participate in the peace process in Burma’s ethnic areas, where rebel militias and the government’s army fought for decades, and to strengthen the country’s civil society organizations, which were stifled under the junta.

Its leaders say the group may also form a political party to participate in future elections, a move that some other opposition parties have welcomed as a way to create a more pluralistic political landscape.