Burmese Democracy Splinter Group Registers

Leaders of the splinter political group of Burma's National League for Democracy (NLD) registered their party at the Election Commission office in Naypyidaw Thursday, claiming they were gathering increasing support across the country.

"We have been contacted by a number of individuals from at least 42 townships across the country who wish to join us," said Khin Maung Swe, who is expected to become the political leader of the newly registered National Democratic Force (NDF). The new party was formed by NLD leaders who disagreed with the NLD executive committee decision not to reregister the party and participate in the upcoming general election.

Khin Maung Swe said some resistance to the new party had been encountered during an information tour in Prome, Pegu and Paungdae townships over the past week.

"Some 30 sympathizers of our group tried to sound out the opinions of people in those townships and found that some NLD members there do not wish to deviate from the NLD line of rejecting the election," Khin Maung Swe said. "On the other hand, several former NLD members from Yenangyaung Township in central Burma have assured us of their support."

Khin Maung Swe's claim was rejected by a leading member of the NLD in Yenangyaung Township, Khin Saw Htay. She said Thursday: "I am furious to hear that many NLD members from our town give their support to NDF. Only a few NLD members are secretly supporting it."

In Moulmein, Aung Tun, a former NLD party organizer in Mudon township, said he intended to join the NDF in order to oppose moves by some hardline NLD members to organize a boycott of the election.

"I am not sure how confident I am in the leadership of NDF, but I support the election," Aung Tun said.

Detained NLD leader Aung San Suu Kyi views the foundation of the NDF as undemocratic, according to her lawyer. However, the NLD's 92-year-old chairman, Aung Shwe, who opposed the party's decision not to take part in the election, supports the NDF, Khin Maung Swe said.

According to NLD party sources, Aung Shwe has avoided visiting the NLD headquarters in Rangoon since the executive committee decided on March 29 to shun the election. Other veteran leaders, including deputy chairman Tin Oo, continue to call at the NLD offices, the sources say.

"We heard that U Aung Shwe said our decision to form a new group was 'good and correct,'" Khin Maung Swe said. "But we never meet each other these days nor did we have any consultation on forming the NDF."

The NDF faces an uphill battle to raise sufficient funds to contest the election effectively. The election laws require contesting parties to pay the equivalent of US $500 for each candidate.

The NDF's election fund currently stands at the equivalent of $2,000, but Khin Maung Swe said he is hopeful of boosting the party's finances with contributions from business interests.

"I can say that some businessmen have already made financial pledges to contribute to our party as soon as we operate as an official party," he said.

Reprinted from The Irrawaddy, with which Asia Sentinel has a content-sharing agreement