The National League for Democracy in Myanmar, the political party of Aung San Suu Kyi — the main symbol of resistance against the junta for over two decades — has ceased to exist, a victim of mala fide by the country's uniquely repressive military rulers. Earlier this year, the State Peace and Development Council (the name the junta has given itself) brought in a new law requiring that political parties register for the national elections (expected to be held later this year) or face dissolution. A party would not be allowed to register unless it expelled members who had been convicted. The law was clearly aimed at excluding Ms Suu Kyi, who was convicted by the junta of violating the terms of her house arrest. Faced with the May 6 deadline for registration, the NLD chose principle over pragmatism and decided that it would disband rather than dump its leader. It is true that there are signs of fatigue among the people over the prolonged standoff between the junta and the pro-democracy activists. There have even been suggestions that the NLD might have helped serve the cause of democracy better by agreeing to participate in the election. Indeed, some members of the defunct NLD were quick to announce plans to contest the elections under the banner of a new political party but this is unlikely to take them anywhere.

By now, it is abundantly clear that the kind of democracy the SPDC wants to usher in will be nothing but military rule in another garb. The Constitution framed by the junta has a provision reserving a quarter of the seats in parliament for the military. In addition, several generals who recently stepped down are expected to contest the election as civilians. This will boost the number of military men in the new parliament. The NLD's participation can only legitimise a pre-rigged process. By making the difficult choice of staying out, the NLD has ensured that issues of legitimacy will plague the new set-up. This in turn will have implications for the outside world's constant search for engagement with fuel-rich Myanmar. The moral high ground of Ms Suu Kyi will be a constant reminder to international and regional powers, India included, of the ineffectiveness of their efforts to help her. For the NLD and its Nobel Laureate leader, the challenge now is to keep alive the political link with the people without the infrastructure of a political party. The immediate response has been the announcement of plans to launch social service programmes as a way to do political work. Whether the junta will allow this, given its track record, is highly uncertain. After all that she has endured, it seems the real battle for Ms Suu Kyi has just begun.

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