YANGON (Reuters) - Myanmar's main opposition party led by Aung San Suu Kyi has expelled 10 members for protesting about the choice of candidates to run for elections in November, after several charismatic pro-democracy leaders were surprisingly excluded.
The National League for Democracy's rejection of several popular activists and intellectuals has further divided an already fractious opposition that faces the military-backed ruling party in the country's first free vote for 25 years.
The NLD has yet to say publicly why it turned down prominent public figures, who could have helped unite the party representing the main electoral threat to a government over which the military continues to hold considerable sway.
The party expelled the 10 for violating party rules, Tun Tun Hein, a member of the party's central executive committee, told Reuters. They were all members from the Pakokku district in central Myanmar.
It was not immediately clear why the activists, who had said they would contest the Nov. 8 ballot on an NLD ticket, were turned down.
For some, the snub and subsequent expulsions underscored the perception that nobel laureate and opposition figurehead Suu Kyi brooks little internal dissent and discourages the rise of leaders who could become potential rivals.
"Qualified people are not necessary in a place where yes men are more favoured," said Naing Naing, a former NLD committee executive member who has left the party and is a vocal critic.
Separately, about 100 NLD members gathered in a Yangon park earlier this week to protest against their party's nominated candidates for a local constituency.
When asked about the expulsions, Kyaw Win, one of the organizers of the park protest, replied: "I don't think it's the way that a party fighting for democracy should behave."
Among those missing when the NLD issued its candidate list earlier this month were prominent members of the so-called 88 Generation Group, made up of activists who led nationwide student protests in 1988.
The most high-profile exclusion was the movement's charismatic leader Ko Ko Gyi, who spent more than 17 years in and out of prison before his 2012 release.
Ko Ko Gyi had considered setting up his own political party or running independently before deciding to stand with the NLD.
Despite the NLD snub, he told Reuters he had decided not to run independently in the election as he did not want to further divide the opposition vote.
"I've decided not to run in the next election as an independent candidate because I don't want the votes for the democratic forces to split," he said.
He made the decision after meeting Suu Kyi days after the party snub, he said. He declined to comment on why the NLD made the decision.
Speaking at a campaign rally in Minbu Town in central Myanmar on Sunday, Suu Kyi told people to focus on her party rather than individuals.
"Don't look at the names of the candidates in the election. Just look at the party and vote for the NLD," she said. "There are good guys and bad guys. We’ll mend bad guys and make good guys better."
Additional reporting by Hnin Yadana Zaw; Editing by Simon Webb and Mike Collett-White