Myanmar still needs opposition: Veteran activist

Jailed for nearly two decades for his struggle against the junta, veteran dissident Win Tin says Myanmar`s pro-democracy movement must not forget its role as the opposition, despite the country`s political changes.

Naypyidaw: Jailed for nearly two decades for his struggle against the junta, veteran dissident Win Tin says Myanmar`s pro-democracy movement must not forget its role as the opposition, despite the country`s dramatic political changes.

Since he was released from prison in 2008, the National League for Democracy (NLD) party which he co-founded 25 years ago with Aung San Suu Kyi has been transformed into a legitimate political force in the fledgling parliament.

Suu Kyi, who is eyeing a run for the presidency in 2015, has adopted a more cooperative approach with the country`s two-year-old reformist government, and was even seen sitting alongside top generals at a military parade in March.

Win Tin, 84, says the NLD remains firmly united behind the Nobel laureate, but alluded to some doubts within the party about her strategy.

"She is the supreme leader and a very capable leader. She is the only one that can keep Myanmar united and who could bring democracy," he said in an interview with a news agency at his home in Yangon.

"We must support her but we must not forget we are in the opposition," he added.

"She wants to be the president after the elections," Win Tin said. "People seem to think there is no opposition... I cannot accept that idea."

President Thein Sein`s government took power in March 2011 after a carefully calibrated and peaceful transition from decades of authoritarian military rule.

Suu Kyi was released a few months earlier after a total of 15 years of house arrest and now, as an elected lawmaker, sits beside some of her former captors in parliament without any obvious bitterness.

"She is a political animal and she has always been," said Win Tin, who served much of his sentence in solitary confinement.

"She wants to lead (the country) with the military... she has a very high opinion of them," he added.

Suu Kyi`s father Aung San founded the army and won independence from British rule in 1948, when the country was known as Burma.

The opposition leader has said that, despite its brutal rule, she remains fond of the military even today.

Suu Kyi has been criticised by rights groups for her perceived silence over deadly violence against the country`s Muslims.

A confidante of the NLD leader for many years, Win Tin defends her reticence in the face of divisive issues.

"She wants to remain careful... she does not want to antagonise the Buddhists," he said, accepting the need to "find a real solution against discrimination".

Her tactics may ensure her support at the ballot box in 2015, but Win Tin, a former journalist and a tireless activist, remains cautious about the future.

If she is to become president, parliament must amend the 2008 military-drafted constitution, which bans Myanmar nationals whose children or spouses are foreign citizens from running for high office.

Suu Kyi`s two sons have British nationality.

To revise the constitution, Suu Kyi needs the support of more than three-quarters of the lawmakers in parliament, one-quarter of whom are unelected military officials.

Win Tin is confident democracy will one day be achieved in Myanmar, but he is less sure whether he or Suu Kyi, now 67, will be around to see it.

"Our struggle will not be not over in five or 10 years," he said.

While projections are risky in a rapidly changing political landscape, the NLD looks likely to win the 2015 polls, if they are free and fair, after trouncing the ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party in by-elections last year.

At the same time some observers question the NLD`s ability to govern as long as a cabal of ageing former dissidents dominate the party`s top ranks, and with younger party members afraid to speak out.

"The only dissent comes from me," Win Tin said with a laugh.

"I do not think we have the capacity to run the country ourselves," he conceded. "But we have enough friends willing to work with us."

Yet criticism of the party -- and Suu Kyi -- does not diminish the loyalty forged during years fighting for freedom, which saw Suu Kyi held under house arrest while Win Tin languished in Yangon`s infamous Insein Prison.

"I have disagreements with her but she is the leader and soul of Burma`s democracy," he said.