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AsiaWednesday, October 18

New Democratic Party in Myanmar Poised to Challenge Aung San Suu Kyi

As the Rohingya Muslim crisis continues, a former student activist in Myanmar says it can be resolved. Ko Ko Gyi says he is going to form a new political party to tackle the crisis and other problems facing the country.

He's not on the campaign trail yet but Ko Ko Gyi is trying to shore up support at a Myanmar community event in Tokyo.

"I want to create an approachable government for the people in our country," he says.

The pro-democracy activist is planning to launch a new political party in Myanmar by the end of the year.

"I am sure that Ko Ko Gyi will work for the future of Myanmar," a supporter says.

Ko Ko Gyi is perhaps the most prominent activist in Myanmar other than Nobel Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi. He became known as the leader of the pro-democracy group called "88 Generation Students". His group worked alongside Aung San Suu Kyi to bring down the military regime. That struggle came with a price. Ko Ko Gyi was released 5 years ago after being imprisoned for a total of almost 2 decades.

Aung San Suu Kyi’s party won a landslide victory in the 2015 election as Myanmar began transitioning to democracy. But Ko Ko Gyi says his work is not finished. In an interview at NHK, he said he wants to form a new party that provides an alternative for the people.

"Democracy means pluralism," he said in the interview. "We have come across the first stage of the democratization. So our peoples, our voters are showing up their willingness to remove the old guides and old systems."

He was invited to Japan this week by The Nippon Foundation. He met with different agencies to discuss the challenges his country faces, including poverty eradication, infrastructure building and national reconciliation.

He says Aung San Suu Kyi cannot solve these problems alone.

Myanmar has recently become the focus of international attention with the exodus of more than half a million Rohingya Muslims to Bangladesh.

The country's government has rejected accusations of ethnic cleansing. Aung San Suu Kyi has faced scrutiny for failing to speak out about the situation.

Rohingya Muslims are currently denied citizenship in Myanmar. Aung San Suu Kyi has floated the idea of granting it to them to resolve the situation. But Ko Ko Gyi was more specific.

"They can apply to get their citizenship," he said. "After having the citizenship, they can and they should enjoy equal treatment from the state. All the citizens should be equal before the law without discrimination regardless of race or religion."

"Whoever violated any laws or any violence, we would have to take actions to have stability in the region."

It is still too early to predict how Ko Ko Gyi's new party will fare. But the fact that he is throwing his hat into the ring and challenging the country’s democratic icon suggests that Myanmar's democracy is still evolving.