YANGON, Myanmar – In another sign of political reform and reconciliation in Myanmar, the country's biggest party led by opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi will hold its first-ever congress in the country's former capital next week.
"This will be the NLD's first party congress since the party was formed more than 24 years ago," National League for Democracy senior leader and parliamentarian Ohn Kyaing said Sunday.
About 900 party members from 260 townships across the country will attend the three-day conference starting March 8 in Yangon to choose the party's new leadership and to lay down future policies and programs, said Ohn Kyaing, one of the organizers of the party assembly.
"Party leader Daw Aung San Suu Kyi had said earlier that party central executive committee members had to be democratically elected but was unable to do so in the past because of an unfavorable political environment," Ohn Kyaing told The Associated Press.
Democracy icon, Aung San Suu Kyi, 67, co-founded the National League for Democracy party amid massive pro-democracy protests in 1988 and officially registered it on Sept. 27, 1988, after the demonstrations were violently suppressed by the then ruling military junta.
The party won national elections in 1990 by a landslide, but the results were not recognized by the military government. Suu Kyi has been jailed or under house arrest for more than 15 of the past 21 years and hundreds of party members imprisoned, and the NLD was unable to hold a general assembly because of government repression.
"We had been unable to hold party assemblies because it was illegal to assemble under the previous regime. The upcoming party congress demonstrates the changing political landscape and openness in the country," said party spokesman Nyan Win.
The ability of the NLD to hold such a meeting comes after Thein Sein was elected president in 2011 and instituted political reforms after almost five decades of repressive military rule. He has freed hundreds of political prisoners, abolished direct media censorship and allowed public protests as part of a democratic transition that has surprised the outside world though many in Myanmar remain skeptical.
Nyan Win said the party will elect 120 Central Committee members from various townships which will then elect a leadership to guide the party through the 2015 general elections. Suu Kyi is currently the party's chairman.
Many NLD leaders are in their 70s or 80s and the general assembly is likely to inject fresh blood in preparation for the elections. The NLD had encountered unrest and splits party during grass-root level elections in the run-up to party congress, with complaints of lack of transparency and fairness.
The largest opposition party, the NLD won 43 of the 44 seats it contested in by-elections last April and will be the largest party to challenge the ruling party, the USDP, in 2015.