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Myanmar's NLD party needs 'new blood'
by Staff Writers
Yangon, Myanmar (UPI) Mar 11, 2013

Defeated Kenyan leader prepares vote challenge
Nairobi (AFP) March 11, 2013 - Kenya's outgoing Prime Minister Raila Odinga, defeated in last week's presidential polls by Uhuru Kenyatta, was preparing his Supreme Court appeal alleging fraud, officials said Monday.

The March 4 general elections -- for the presidency, regional governors, senators, members of parliament as well as local councillors -- were marred by allegations of vote rigging.

Defeated candidates have also raised concerns about the widespread failure of an electronic voter registration system -- designed to limit fraud -- as well as of the electronic transmission of results, which forced a manual tallying process.

Odinga is expected to request a "forensic audit of manual and electronic data", including investigations into the alleged "drastic reduction and rise" of votes in some constituencies after the official register was closed, a close aide to Odinga said.

While many were concerned at the risk of renewed violence ahead of the election, no major incidents have been reported in recent days.

Kenyatta, who avoided a second round run-off vote by the slimmest of margins to win a majority with just 50.07 percent, beat Odinga -- his closest rival -- by more than 800,000 votes.

Odinga, who won 43.31 percent in the March 4 poll in his third failed attempt at the top job, has said he will respect the decision of the Supreme Court even if it rules against him.

He has also called for his supporters to allow the legal process to run its course, warning shortly after Kenyatta was declared president-elect on Saturday that "any violence now could destroy the country forever".

Kenyatta, one of Africa's richest men, faces trial for crimes against humanity at the International Criminal Court (ICC) over his alleged role in orchestrating the bloody violence following the 2007 contested elections.

More than 1,100 people were killed and over 600,000 fled their homes in one of the worst bouts of ethnic bloodletting in Kenya.

The peaceful conduct of polls has been praised by the international community, who have also urged that disputes over the results must be done through the courts.

Kenya's neighbours as well as China have offered congratulations directly to Kenyatta, with Beijing on Monday saying it wanted to "strengthen cooperation with the new government", foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said.

African Union commission chief Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma on Monday saluted the "people of Kenya for the successful and peaceful" elections, and congratulated Kenyatta and running mate William Ruto, who also faces an ICC trial.

But Western nations -- who have a policy of only essential contact with those charged by the ICC -- have praised the Kenyan people while avoiding mention of Kenyatta's win.

United States Secretary of State John Kerry congratulated "all those elected to office", a message echoed by European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton.

Odinga legally has until Saturday to file his petition -- seven days from the results -- with the Supreme Court then having 14 days to make their ruling.

Kenya's Chief Justice Willy Mutunga has the power to order a recount, order a whole new election or dismiss the petition.

"We are going to listen to all cases brought before us fairly," Mutunga said Monday.

If the petition is dismissed, Kenyatta would be inaugurated as Kenya's fourth president one week later, suggesting a possible ceremony in early April.

Kenyatta has offered "my older brother" Odinga an olive branch, telling thousands of his loyalists he wanted to work with him "in moving our nation forward."

He also called on his celebrating supporters to be "modest in our victory."

Kenyatta's trial at the ICC opens on July 9, while Ruto's begins on May 28.

Aung San Suu Kyi, the re-elected chairwoman of Myanmar's National League for Democracy, called for "new blood" to reinvigorate the pro-democracy party.

Suu Kyi, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate, spoke at the end of a three-day party congress in Yangon and which was attended by more than 900 delegates from around the country.

She is one of four women on the NLD's 15-member executive and among 120 elected members to the party's central committee, a BBC report said.

She urged party members to unite and move away from increasing infighting and factionalism.

"For the benefit of the country we should unite and get along," Suu Kyi said.

Suu Kyi, who will lead the party into the 2015 national election, also called for younger members to be allowed to "strengthen the party with new blood," the BBC report said.

"This congress is about choosing the right leaders who will serve both the future of our organization and our country," she said.

The NLD's internal elections were the first for the party, formed in 1988 and which won parliamentary elections in 1990.

But the military junta refused to recognize the elections and remained in power, continuing to harass and repress political parties and pro-democracy dissident groups.

Suu Ki, 67, spent most of the years in some form of incarceration, from jail to house arrest. She was barred from running as a candidate in the military's 2010 parliamentary general election -- the first multiparty general election in 20 years -- designed to move the country toward a civilian government and a more open society.

Suu Kyi was released from house arrest six days after the 2010 election.

The NLD boycotted the 2010 election, which was won by former Gen. Thein Sein, now Myanmar's president and who heads the National Unity Party consisting of many former junta leaders who resigned to run as civilians.

But last year the NLD won 43 seats out of 44 in by-elections, including one for Suu Kyi who sits in Parliament as the main opposition leader.

While the NLD remains a popular opposition to the government, it faces many challenges if it wants to capture the vote in 2015, especially among ethnic groups, many of whom are embroiled in military confrontation with the government in the jungles around the country's frontiers.

The congress and internal elections and appointments have been important for the NLD to show that it is moving with the fast changing political scene in Myanmar, once a pariah state but now wooed my many countries interested in business opportunities, including natural resource exploitation.

However, Suu Kyi said the NLD has acted undemocratically at times, with its central committee making decisions without consulting party members, a report by the Irrawaddy magazine said.

She said the NLD's conduct was because of restrictions imposed by the former military government, which also prevented the party from holding a congress.

Many of its leaders are in their 70's and 80's, while questions remain about the effectiveness of its lower- and mid-level organization, the Irrawaddy report said.

"We want someone who loves to take responsibilities, not positions," Suu Kyi said during the congress.

Suu Kyi's comments also bring into light her own 25-year leadership of the NLD, something the party might have to move away from to satisfy her call for new blood, Aung Thu Nyien, director of VAHU Development Institute in Chiang Mai, Thailand, said.

The NLD will have to include younger members who want more of a say on policy and to be in position of influence within the party, Thu told Radio Australia.

The party also must overcome a growing concern among minority groups, particularly in Rakine state, already a major issue for the central government of President Thein Sein, Thu said.

Myanmar, a Buddhist majority country, has its Muslim minority mostly in the northwestern Rakhine state, also is home to Rohingya, a Muslim group with close ties to neighboring Bangladesh.

Communal violence in May left nearly 80 people from both communities dead, mostly in Sittway, Maungtaw and Buthidaung townships. More than 100 people were injured and nearly 5,000 homes, 17 mosques, 15 monasteries and three schools were burned, the government said.

As Myanmar moves further toward a more open democratic society, the country's thousands of exiled democracy advocates and political dissidents are faced with the choice of remaining in exile or moving back.

"It's becoming difficult to find things to complain about," Aung Naing Oo, deputy director of the Vahu Development Institute, formed by Myanmar student activists who fled the country during unrest in the late 1980s. "Everyone is basically hoping that they can go back," he told The New York Times last month.

The increasing openness of Myanmar's government and society in general means fewer mainly Western governments, charities and non-government organizations are funding dissident exile groups.

Coupled with a drive by Myanmar government ministers to lure back dissidents -- a sort of reverse brain drain -- the raison d'etre for being in exile is evaporating slowly.

"Ultimately if you're an activist, you want to be where the action is," Naing told the Times. "If that action is not where you are, you have to move."


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