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Politically aspirant 88 Generation makes moves in Irrawaddy Delta

A file photo of Min Ko Naing, an 88 Generation student leader, giving a speech at the opening ceremony of a memorial and exhibition marking the 25th anniversary of the democratic uprising, known also as "8888", in Rangoon on 6 August 2013. (Photo: Reuters)

The “88 Generation” has established a party organising committee in the ethnic Bamar heartland of Hinthada Township, Irrawaddy Division, as it eyes becoming a major political force in future.

The move, with the committee established on Sunday, appears to be aimed at bringing an electoral challenge to some of the very same people that the 88 Generation was, for decades, allied with in Burma’s long struggle for democracy.

Tun Lwin, a former political prisoner who wore his old prison uniform at the launch of the Hinthada party organising committee, recited a poem on Sunday and said, “As long as the 2008 Constitution is not amended, there will be iron shackles and handcuffs for the politicians and general public. Amend the Constitution. Free all political prisoners.”

The potential rise of an 88 Generation party could well challenge a political order— at least in terms of civilian governance — of essentially single-party rule in the wake of the National League for Democracy’s landmark 2015 election win. The establishment of an 88 Generation party organising committee in Hinthada is particularly noteworthy, given that one of the township’s native sons — Htay Oo of the formerly ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party — was one of the highest profile defeats for the military-backed USDP in 2015.

“We did not endeavour to found a political party for us. I promise that I dedicate the efforts to all monks, students and others who lost their lives in the 8888 uprising,” said Ko Ko Gyi, referring to the pro-democracy movement that kicked off most dramatically on 8 August 1988.

Ko Ko Gyi, an 88 Generation stalwart, was among the most conspicuous omissions from the NLD’s slate of candidates for the 2015 general election. 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.

“Now, I would like to say that we would not be like those who come to the constituencies during campaign periods only,” Ko Ko Gyi said during a speech to mark the inauguration of the party’s organising committee office in Hinthada. “After we have obtained an official license for the political party, the public can come to our office, share their concerns and provide suggestions to us.”

Htay Oo lost handily to his NLD opponent Khin Maung Yi on 8 November 2015. That defeat was of particular note because he had, just months earlier, been appointed USDP chairman after the dramatic ouster of his predecessor, Shwe Mann, who now serves as chair of the parliamentary Legal Affairs and Special Cases Assessment Commission.