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’88 Generation faction objects to ‘Four Eights’ party branding

Students hold four wreaths as they march to mark the 25th anniversary of the 8888 uprising in Yangon on 8 August 2013. (Photo: Reuters)

Some participants of the 1988 uprising that made the term “88 Generation” synonymous with one of Burma’s most historic pro-democracy movements have objected to a bid to register a political party under the name “Four Eights Party.”

The inspiration for the Four Eights Party, which officially filed an application with the Union Election Commission (UEC) last month, refers to 8 August 1988, widely viewed as the anchoring date for nationwide protests against the country’s former military regime.

Following a meeting of activists in Upper Burma who were part of that movement, however, objections were raised about the aspirant political party assuming the mantle of a numerology that is deeply intertwined with the country’s struggle for democracy.

“We object to the name of the party,” said Ko Zarni, a member of the ’88 Generation, after the recent meeting at the Ngwe Ngar Monastery in Chan Mya Tharzi Township, Mandalay Region.

“[The numerology] 8888 does not belong to any individual or organisation,” he added. “It is a monumental event in history; a struggle in which citizens across the entire country sacrificed their lives, blood and sweat against the totalitarian dictatorship in Burma. So, we object to naming the party the ‘four eights.’ If a political party that has adopted the name ‘four eights’ makes a blunder, it would harm the entire historic movement.”

Last month Ko Ko Gyi, an 88 Generation stalwart and one of the organisers of the Four Eights Party’s formation, rejected criticisms of the decision to embrace the historic date in submitting its filing with the UEC.

“The ’88 uprising is the backbone of the country,” he said at the time. “The comrades who actively participated in the uprising highly value and respect the ‘four eights.’ Among other names proposed, the ‘four eights’ is the simplest one and a widely known term among the general public, making the name all-encompassing.”

He added, “It is not just a number or a logo. It has very soaring objectives and ambitions behind it.”

But the pushback looks likely to linger as the UEC weighs whether or not to certify the Four Eights Party’s registration.

“The 8888 uprising is an historic movement in which I mobilised people to join the protest at the Yar Pyae grounds in Mandalay,” said Galone Ni Sayadaw Kawiya, a leading monk involved in the protests nearly 30 years ago. “No one can claim 8888 as their own. It is not supposed to belong to anyone. I object to the name as well.”

The political aspirants — several drawn from the ranks of the 88 Generation Peace and Open Society activist group — settled on the “Four Eights Party” in their bid to the UEC after mulling multiple possible names. The decision was made during the second sitting of a committee established in July to set up the political party.

If approved by the UEC, the Four Eights Party could challenge a political order of essentially single-party rule in the wake of the National League for Democracy’s landmark 2015 general election win.

Ko Ko Gyi was among the most conspicuous omissions from the NLD’s slate of candidates for the 2015 vote. It was a roster that sparked internal dissent and several party defections, with the selection process criticised by some as top-down and lacking local input.

There are more than 90 political parties officially registered in Burma, but relatively few saw electoral success in 2015. The NLD won nearly 80 percent of elected seats in the national legislature.

Burma’s de facto leader, NLD founding member Aung San Suu Kyi, has often appeared at events with prominent members of the 88 Generation.