Suu Kyi says Myanmar vote unfair

Sounds note of caution over her epic election bid

Opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi said on Friday that Myanmar’s landmark weekend elections will be neither free nor fair because of widespread irregularities, but vowed to continue her candidacy for the sake of the long-repressed nation.

poll-ready: A man holds a portrait of Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi during a rally for a candidate of her National League for Democracy party on Friday. AFP

Suu Kyi said opposition candidates had been targeted in stone-throwing incidents, campaign posters vandalised and members of her party intimidated during the run-up to Sunday’s closely-watched parliamentary by-elections.

During a news conference on the lawn of her crumbling lakeside residence in Yangon, the 66-year-old Nobel Peace Prize laureate said government officials were involved in some of the irregularities and that they go “beyond what is acceptable for democratic elections.”

“Still,” she said, “we are determined to go forward because we think this is what our people want.”
The vote to fill several dozen vacant legislative seats comes after months of surprising reforms carried out by Myanmar’s nominally civilian, post-junta government, including the release of political prisoners, truces with rebel groups and a dramatic easing of media censorship. The poll is a crucial test of Myanmar’s commitment to change, and Western nations have held out the possibility of lifting some sanctions if all goes smoothly.

In a televised speech last Sunday, President Thein Sein admitted to “unnecessary errors” in ballot lists and asked voters and politicians to respect “the decision of the people.”

Presidential adviser Nay Zin Latt said on Friday that “there could be some flaws and some bumps in the process, but our leaders have publicly said that their policy is to hold a free, fair and impartial election.”

What’s important is that “the country is on its reform road, and is in the process of building a democratic society.”

The vote is likely to mark a symbolic turning point by bringing Suu Kyi into parliament for the first time since emerging to lead the nation’s struggle for democracy nearly a quarter century ago. She spent most of that time under house arrest, and her candidacy has raised hopes for a more representative government after almost 50 years of military rule. It could also set the stage for her to run for president during the next poll in 2015. But with parliament dominated by the ruling party, and with 25 per cent of legislative seats allotted to the army, Suu Kyi and her opposition colleagues will be hard-pressed to achieve much if they are elected.

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