At a long-overdue party congress, Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi has urged supporters to unite. With her pro-democracy party hampered by division, there are doubts about its readiness to govern.
In her first speech to a National League for Democracy (NLD) congress in more than two decades, Suu Kyi urged delegates to put personal allegiances and internal squabbles aside.
"Choose leaders without any personal grudge," she told the 862 party members assembled in the former capital, Yangon, on Saturday. "Don't think of yourself. Don't think of your friends. Have firm policies and conviction and the courage to sacrifice, if you want to claim yourself to be a politician."
While Suu Kyi admitted "there was some fighting" within the NLD, she evoked the pro-democracy movement's past in an effort to inspire solidarity. "The spirit of fraternity is very important. We have been strong in the past because of this spirit," said Suu Kyi.
The congress elected seven members to its central executive committee - its highest decision making body - on Friday, including Suu Kyi. Some 30 auxiliary members were appointed by the old executive committee on Saturday in the final act of its centralized decision-making role.
The congress was also tasked with electing a larger central committee. Nobel Laureate Suu Kyi is expected to be re-elected as party leader once final votes are counted on Sunday.
Suu Kyi had been unable to attend the first day of the three-day congress on Friday, because of parliamentary business in the capital, Naypyitaw.
Fresh blood needed
With many of the party's members aged in their 80s and 90s, an effort is underway to infuse the NLD's ranks with new faces and greater diversity.
Suu Kyi told the congress the democratization of the NLD was important if "new blood" were to be brought to the party. During decades of military rule the party was outlawed, meaning the NDL could not hold elections. "The NLD has been accused of using centralized systems," said Suu Kyi. "It is partly true because we were unable to operate freely. But the situation has changed."
The party is attempting to prepare for power ahead of a general election in 2015 that it is tipped to win.
Suu Kyi and other party members became parliamentary delegates last year after an April 1 by-election that saw them win 43 out of 45 contested seats. The NLD won 80 per cent of the contested seats in a 1990 election, but it was stopped from taking power by the ruling military junta. Suu Kyi spent more than 15 years under house arrest since then until the military began moves to relinquish power.
rc/jlw (AP, AFP, dpa, Reuters)