Suu Kyi urges NLD youth to take on more responsibility

NLD chairperson Aung San Suu Kyi (2nd right) sits with party members at the NLD youth conference on Saturday, 30 August 2014. (PHOTO: DVB)
Burma’s opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi has encouraged the new generation within the National League for Democracy (NLD), to take more responsibility within the party as it pushes towards a general election next year.

Addressing NLD youth members in Rangoon on Saturday, Suu Kyi noted that party policy – established during the military era when organizing youth activities were limited – dictated that the age limit was 35 within the youth ranks. Despite this, she said, those middle-aged members among the group should strive to fulfill duties “befitting of their age”.

She pointed out that many young Burmese, including university graduates, currently face unemployment, and that there is a fear that such feelings of hopelessness could develop into “dangerous situations of instability”.

Around 150 people from across the country attended the meeting on 30 August, including members from the youth wing of the NLD who have been active since 1988.

NLD chairman for Rangoon region, Myint Htay, one of the organisers of the summit, spoke about how the NLD youth had helped win the 2012 bi-elections.

“The first youth meeting was held in 2011 and those who campaigned for the NLD helped us win the 2012 bi-elections,” he said. “Now, we are facing bi-elections again this year and a general election in 2015. This conference was staged to encourage those who had previously worked with the NLD youth to work together with the current members to implement the goals of the party at the upcoming elections.”

NLD veteran Tin Oo, said that changes will be implemented before the end of the year.

“The previous generation must now hand over the reins to the current youth members,” he said.

In July, the NLD organised a nationwide youth conference in Rangoon where party chairperson Suu Kyi urged youth members to adhere to the party agenda.

By TUN TUN THEIN (DVB)

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Cambodian Opposition Number Two Elected Parliament Deputy Speaker

Kem Sokha speaks to reporters in Phnom Penh after being elected deputy house speaker of the National Assembly, Aug. 26, 2014.  RFA
The number two leader of the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) was on Tuesday elected as deputy speaker and 10 other CNRP lawmakers as members of key panels of parliament as the party gained unprecedented power in the legislature following a political deal with Prime Minister Hun Sen.

Lawmakers overwhelmingly approved Kem Sokha for the deputy speaker’s post—the most senior opposition position in parliament—with 116 of 122 voting in favor, four objections and two abstentions. Another member of parliament was absent from the vote.

Tuesday’s appointment represented a concession by Hun Sen’s ruling Cambodian People’s Party as part of an agreement reached last month to end an opposition boycott of parliament in protest against July 2013 elections it said were tainted by fraud.

The CPP, which won 68 seats, was declared victor in the polls by the country’s government-appointed electoral body, but the CNRP garnered 55 seats in the National Assembly (parliament)—the largest share held by the opposition since Hun Sen came to power three decades ago.

Kem Sokha said Tuesday that he had earned his post as a result of his own struggles and the support of the country’s voters, adding that he would use his new role to ensure that the country’s executive, legislative and judicial branches adhere to a system of checks and balances.

"We will have separation of powers and we will have political stability,” he told reporters after the vote in parliament.

“I believe that the people want a real democracy. My message to the people is that I won’t withdraw and I will protect your rights.”

Reuters news agency quoted Kem Sokha as saying that the opposition would at long last provide a balance to the power of the ruling party in the National Assembly, which had previously been seen as a rubber stamp parliament for the CPP.

“Even though a CPP member is president, they can't ignore the huge voice of the opposition party. It's hard for them to do that, because we are a lot of people,” Kem Sokha said.

“But we can see that this is a good start.”

CNRP President Sam Rainsy, who also joined parliament as a lawmaker following the July 22 deal with the CPP, welcomed Kem Sokha’s appointment as “a major step forward for the democratic process in the Assembly.”

Sam Rainsy told reporters that he would be assuming an advisory role within the parliament to allow his party’s younger leaders to gain greater experience in politics.

“I will guide them from behind the scene and provide advice to those who are younger,” he said.

Ahead of last year’s election, Sam Rainsy and Kem Sokha had agreed that if the CNRP won, the latter would become parliamentary president and the former Prime Minister.

Hun Sen applauded Kem Sokha’s appointment, but did not speak with reporters.

Parliamentary committees

Also on Tuesday, the National Assembly voted 14 opposition lawmakers into three parliamentary committees, according to last month’s deal.

The opposition members to be included in seven other parliamentary panels would be decided on Wednesday.

Under the previous mandate, all 10 panels were controlled by the CPP.

The parliament elected five CNRP members each to the opposition-controlled human rights and agriculture commissions and four CNRP members to the CPP-controlled finance commission.

The legislature will vote Wednesday for opposition lawmakers to be assigned to the remaining seven committees, which include the CPP-controlled defense and justice commissions and the CNRP-led women’s affairs, education and anti-corruption commissions.

After the opposition members are voted to the 10 committees—all of which were assigned ruling party members from before the CNRP joined parliament—lawmakers will vote on chairman and deputy chairman positions for each commission.

Opposition members will also take six of the 13 positions on parliament’s standing committee, the body that sets the legislative agenda and oversees parliament’s internal rules.

July deal

In addition to an agreement by the CNRP to rejoin parliament and parliamentary concessions by the CPP, last month’s deal saw Hun Sen commit to broad electoral reforms and grant the opposition four of nine seats on the National Election Committee (NEC), which oversees the nation’s polls.

Hun Sen also agreed to provide the opposition with a television channel license.

The deal followed the opposition’s year-long boycott of the legislature, as well as months of sometimes violent protests in which CNRP supporters called for the prime minister to step down and agree to hold new elections.

The long-lasting standoff between the parties has left the two sides cautious of one another and it remains to be seen how they will work together as lawmakers.

Reuters quoted Kem Sokha as saying he would propose that Sam Rainsy and Hun Sen meet regularly to iron out their differences.

It said Sam Rainsy recently spoke of a need to “eliminate the culture of violence and revenge.”

Political analyst Ou Virak told Reuters he was skeptical the two sides could cooperate and ensure the truce held, adding that he anticipated the CPP would ensure it still got its way in parliament.

“It's more symbolic, it's more ceremonial than the real power,” he said of the concessions.

Reported by Ses Vansak for RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Samean Yun. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.

Lao Activist Defies Authorities And Builds Home on Disputed Land

A view of the reservoir of the Nam Theun 2 hydropower dam in central Laos's Khammouane province, in a file photo.
AFP PHOTO / HO / NAM THEUN POWER COMPANY
Undeterred by a three-month detention and defying warnings from the authorities, a Lao activist is refusing to vacate land she had occupied for years and which has been identified for a government road expansion project.

Sivanxay Phommarath said she has begun construction of her house on the contentious plot of land in Khammouane province’s Nhommalath district despite being notified by the government that the area would have to be vacated for expansion of a road near the Nam Theun 2—the country’s largest hydroelectric dam.

Sivanxay, who was detained in 2012 after leading efforts to discuss adequate compensation for villagers affected by the road project, said she would not vacate her land unless the government gave her a comparable plot on which to build a home or a shop to support her family.

Most of her neighbors who have “good connections” with the authorities have left the area after receiving alternative plots of land and financial compensation, she said.
Sivanxay Phommarath
Sivanxay told RFA’s Lao Service that since her release from detention in February last year, the government has yet to respond to her demand, so she decided to build a new home in defiance of an official announcement that the adjacent road would be expanded by 25 meters (80 feet).

“I am building a new house on the lot because the hut I currently live in [often becomes] flooded,” she said, adding that she decided to build close to the road so that she can also run a small shop, despite the fact that the structure lies within the zone earmarked in 2012 for the road project.

“I am still confident that this land is mine because I pay property taxes every year. If I am asked to leave again, I would do so, as long as I am compensated according to my previous demand.”

All of the area’s other residents have accepted compensation offers from the government and either moved or say they are ready to do so when the project begins, according to local officials.

It is unclear when the project will break ground and may have been stalled due to budget problems, residents say.

Sivanxay said she is confident the authorities are aware that she is building her new home within the project zone “because they drive to work past my house every day.”

She said no one from the local government had spoken to her about taking down the structure, other than to warn her that it was being built too close to the road and needed to be situated more than 25 meters away.

A Nhommalath official told RFA recently that the majority of villagers in the area had already moved and that those who hadn’t were “prepared to move as soon as authorities ask,” except for Sivanxay.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, the official said that if Sivanxay refuses to vacate she will lose 25 meters of her land to the road project, and that the remaining plot would provide her, her husband and their two-year-old child with little room to live.

But Sivanxay said she would hold out because she had not been promised anything better as part of a relocation package.

“Yes, many villagers have moved because they have good connections with the authorities so they have received good compensation and land,” she said.

“But me? I don't have a good relationship with the officials, so I won't get anything as good.”

Seeking compensation

Authorities released Phommarath from detention after she paid a 700,000 kip (U.S. $88) fine and promised that she and her husband Soukphaouane Phommarath would refrain from taking part in any “unlawful” actions.

Sivanxay was detained in October 2012 after she led more than 20 people from Nhommalath district to meet with an unknown person in Savannakhet province the group believed would help them get better compensation for land being taken over by the road expansion.

After finding no one at the planned meeting spot—on a bridge over the Mekong River on the Thai-Lao border—the villagers returned home to Nhommalath but were taken into custody for questioning from authorities on the reason for their trip.

When Sivanxay refused to divulge information about the person she was supposed to meet, she was charged with inciting social disorder and taken to the Khammouane provincial prison on Nov. 19, 2012.

Authorities gave no explanation for her sudden release after being held incommunicado.

She said at the time that the conditions set by the authorities for her release stipulated that she and her husband “will not make any propaganda, incite groups of people to carry out unlawful acts in any way, will be good citizens socially and will not break any Lao laws.”

Since all land in Laos is owned by the state, residents can be forced off their land with little or no compensation as they are pushed out to make room for development projects.

Lawmakers have expressed concern that inadequate land surveys ahead of major development projects have led to a rash of complaints over encroachment on villagers' land and created a range of environmental problems, according to the state-owned Vientiane Times newspaper.

Reported by RFA’s Lao Service. Translated by Max Avary. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.

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