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In Burma, Landmark Elections A Chance For International Legitimacy

Benjamin Gottlieb |
March 30, 2012 | 2:50 p.m. PDT

Executive Editor

Aung San Suu Kyi is running for one of the 43 seats in Burma's legislature (Creative Commons).
Aung San Suu Kyi is running for one of the 43 seats in Burma's legislature (Creative Commons).
As voters in Myanmar prepare to hit the polls this weekend, the ruling Burmese party hope a transparent election process will legitimize their rule, a desire attributed to the government's decision to reenter international discourse and open up their economy.

But Aung San Suu Kyi, the country's most famous dissident and political candidate, denounced the notion of a fair and free election on Friday, citing "irregularities" in the upcoming voting process.

“I don’t think we can consider it a genuinely free and fair election if we take into consideration what has been going on in the last couple of months,” Suu Kyi said, according to Bloomberg.  “But still I will be willing to work toward national reconciliation, so we will try to tolerate what has happened.”

Suu Kyi -- who will run for elective office effectively for the first time -- is among those running for the 43 seats now vacant in Burma's legislature. The seats were cleared after months of surprising reforms carried out by Burma's post-junta government -- who also released political prisoners and made truces with embattled rebel groups.

Suu Kyi said she and the National League for Democracy (NLD) party would only accept election results if the will of the people was "fairly reflected," Bloomberg reported.

From Bloomberg:

The elections “aren’t going to fundamentally shift power in the country, but they are hugely important in representing a historic compromise” between Suu Kyi’s party and the government, said Thant Myint-U, an author of two books on Myanmar whose grandfather, U Thant, was the first Asian head of the United Nations. “It will end a long chapter in Burmese history.”

A win would allow Suu Kyi, 66, to take legislative office for the first time after spending 15 years under house arrest as the military-led regime repressed opposition. Daughter of a leader in Myanmar’s independence campaign from Britain, she won the Nobel peace prize in 1991 and became a focus of foreign perceptions of the nation’s politics.

In Yangon, Myanmar's capital city, students and teachers gathered Friday to celebrate the prospect of free weekend elections, according to NPR. Although the NLD party has been given the green-light to participate in the elections, they've been crippled after years of government sanctions.

More from NPR's Anthony Kuhn, reporting from the headquarters of the NLD:

Although the NLD is over two decades old, it's still recovering from being disbanded by the government in 2010, when the party boycotted the general elections. The NLD may not have a lot of money or a fancy headquarters, but it's got a valuable resource in its legions of devoted followers.

Despite their celebration, Suu Kyi's skepticism runs deep amongst NLD leaders and other Burmese reformers alike.

From the AP via USA Today:

…with parliament overwhelmingly dominated by the ruling party, and with 25% of legislative seats allotted to the army, Suu Kyi and her opposition colleagues will be hard-pressed to achieve much if they are elected.

Suu Kyi said there were "many, many cases of intimidation" and acts which broke electoral laws. Her National League for Democracy party says those include election commission officials campaigning for the ruling party, and leaving eligible voters off voting lists while including the names of dead people. Her party also alleges opponents engaged in vote-buying, and they cite inconveniences like a rule barring Suu Kyi from holding campaign rallies in stadiums.



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