, YANGON, Jan 18 – Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi launched her historic bid for a seat in parliament on Wednesday in the latest sign of change in the country after the end of decades of outright military rule.
The Nobel Peace Prize winner is standing in April 1 by-elections seen as a major test of the regime’s reform credentials following a surprising series of conciliatory gestures by the new nominally civilian government.
The pro-democracy icon, released from a long stretch of house arrest in late 2010, submitted her registration to stand in a rural constituency in Kawhmu near Yangon, an area devastated by Cyclone Nargis in 2008.
“Aung San Suu Kyi was the first member of the NLD to register. She’s going to run for the lower house,” a senior party official, Win Htein, told AFP.
The 66-year-old’s National League for Democracy (NLD) party has already been given approval to return to the official political arena, against a backdrop of budding reforms including dialogue between the regime and the opposition.
The NLD was stripped of its status as a legal political party in 2010 after it chose to boycott a controversial national election held in November of that year, saying the rules were unfair.
That vote, in which the military’s allies claimed an overwhelming victory, was marred by complaints of cheating and criticised by Western nations which enforce sanctions against the regime.
A quarter of parliament’s seats are taken up by unelected military officials while the Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), which is packed with former military men, holds about 80 percent of the remainder.
Suu Kyi was released a few days after the 2010 poll, having spent much of the past two decades in detention.
Since coming to power in March, the new military-backed government dominated by former generals has made a series of reformist moves in an apparent attempt to reach out to political opponents and the West.
These included releasing hundreds of political prisoners, holding dialogue with the opposition, suspending construction of an unpopular mega-dam and pursuing peace deals with armed ethnic minority rebels.
The NLD won an election in 1990 by a landslide, while Suu Kyi remained under house arrest, but the ruling generals never allowed the party to take power.
A total of 48 seats are up for grabs in the April vote — not enough to threaten the resounding majority held by the ruling party. But the participation of Suu Kyi would give a boost to the legislature’s credibility.
A top regime figure told AFP on Monday that Myanmar has “no other way” but to embrace democracy, and promised that the April poll would be democratic.
“I guarantee the elections will be free and fair,” said lower house speaker Shwe Mann.
Suu Kyi hinted at the weekend that she could take a position in the government but said it “depends on the circumstances”.
The April polls are to fill places vacated by those elected in the 2010 polls who have since become ministers and deputy ministers in the government.