YANGON--Aung San Suu Kyi party will field a slate of young candidates, including a popular rapper, in national assembly by-elections to be held in Myanmar (Burma) on April 1.
Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) has adopted a deliberate policy of recruiting new blood in the run-up to the votes, which are seen as a critical test of the sincerity of Myanmar’s leadership in moving toward a more democratic system.
At the NLD's Central Executive Committee meeting on Jan. 9, 95-year-old Aung Shwe was replaced as NLD chairman by Aung San Suu Kyi, 66. Tin Oo, 85, and Win Tin, 80, who had been in the party leadership since its foundation, retired as vice chairmen and were named members of the NLD patron committee.
The 46 candidates chosen to contest 46 vacancies in the national assembly by-elections on April 1 had a distinctly youthful look, including Zayar Thaw, one of the pioneers of rap music in the country.
At a charity concert in Yangon (Rangoon) on Feb. 2 attended by about 2,000 people, the 31-year-old rapped: "Get out from under the yoke! Freedom for everybody!"
While he did not directly denounce the government, his songs do not conceal his anger at a military regime that imprisoned him for three years.
The Feb. 2 event was hosted by a nongovernmental organization fighting HIV, but T-shirts carrying Aung San Suu Kyi's image were on sale.
"I would have been arrested if I had sung a song like that a year ago," Zayar Thaw said.
He is a substantial political figure as well as an entertainer. During the 2007 demonstrations against the military junta, he organized "Generation Wave," an underground network of people in their teens and 20s and distributed anti-military songs on the Internet and CDs. He was arrested in March 2008 on suspicion of forming an illegal organization and was sentenced to six years in prison. He was released in January in an amnesty and joined the NLD.
He acknowledges that the government is slowly introducing reforms.
"But we want to change this nation on our own. We have no time to wait," he said.
Students were central players in the anti-government movements in 1988 that ended Ne Win's dictatorship and student leaders were arrested after the military coup later that year. Many were kept behind bars for most of the next 24 years, and the military regime pursued extreme policies aimed at preventing students from organizing, including closing down whole universities and moving them to rural areas.
Economic sanctions imposed by the West forced millions of young people to move to neighboring Thailand and elsewhere as illegal workers.
"Our generation has never had an opportunity to be active," said Nainghan Lin, a 34-year-old NLD candidate for the national assembly by-election. "But we have just as much power to change society as did the 1988 generation."
The NLD is acutely conscious that years of political suppression prevented it from recruiting new members and is determined to rejuvenate itself ahead of the next general election in 2015.
"Three years from now will be the crucial point if we are to become the majority in the national assembly," spokesman Nyan Win said. "The younger generations will hold a key then."
Myat Nyana Soe, a 38-year-old lawmaker of the National Democratic Force that split from the NLD to take part in the 2010 general election, said Jan. 30 he would join the NLD.
His youth may have been a major factor in the party’s decision to overlook his earlier transgression. He said Suu Kyi told him when he met her: "The NLD needs young blood."
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