Suu Kyi eyes poll majority, but fears for wider democratic gains

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NAYPYIDAW: Aung San Suu Kyi said Tuesday she was confident her opposition party would win Myanmar’s landmark elections if they are free and fair, but raised concerns over the country’s overall progress towards democracy.

The Nobel Peace Prize winner told Agence France-Presse in an interview she expects her National League for Democracy (NLD) will secure a majority in November.

It will be the first nationwide poll the NLD has contested for 25 years in a country strait-jacketed for almost half a century by military rule.

The party won by a landslide in 1990 but was barred by the military from taking power.


Asked if she was confident of winning a dominant share of seats Suu Kyi replied: “If the elections are free and fair, of course.”

“I think looking at the governments which have gone before us, we should be in a position to form a better government,” she told Agence France-Presse, in some of her most sanguine comments yet as Myanmar fast approaches an election many hope will be the freest in its modern history.

Suu Kyi, the daughter of Myanmar’s independence hero, led her opposition party into parliament after the current quasi-civilian government replaced military rule in 2011.

But Myanmar’s junta-era constitution blocks her pathway to the presidency, and a recent attempt to change it was quashed by the still-powerful military and its allies.

And the veteran campaigner said she was also “very concerned” about irregularities in the run-up to the polls, stressing that the long-cloistered country still has a long way to go before it can be called democratic.

Suu Kyi said her party was concerned that it was a target of rivals “using religion for political purposes” as the Buddhist-majority nation grapples with the increasing influence of radical nationalist monks.

Scant progress had been made, she said, in two complaints filed with election authorities over cases in which political rivals started “attacking” the NLD during religious ceremonies.

“What you are asking, are we concerned about irregularities about fraud and so on and of course we are very concerned,” she said.

Earlier this month President Thein Sein, a former general, launched a dramatic internal putsch of the ruling party using security forces, ousting rival Shwe Mann from the party leadership in a move seen as an effort by the army and its allies to tighten their grip ahead of the polls.

“We are supposed to be going along the path of democratisation but events over the last couple of weeks show that we are not very far along that path yet,” said Suu Kyi of the incident.

The opposition leader’s cordial political relationship with Shwe Mann, who retains his influential role as parliament speaker, had led to speculation they were planning an alliance that would have challenged the still-powerful military.

Observers fear that the NLD’s lack of an obvious heir to Suu Kyi will stoke political uncertainty, particularly in the months after the November 8 elections when parliament will select a president.

Suu Kyi, who turned 70 this year, confirmed  that the NLD would reveal its candidate for the job only after the polls.

But she said the nominee would come from within the party.

The constitution excludes those with foreign spouses and children from top political office — Suu Kyi’s two sons are British -— as well as reserving a quarter of parliamentary seats for unelected soldiers.

Reforms in recent years have sent investors swooping into long-isolated Myanmar.

Reflecting on the changes in the country Suu Kyi said the dramatic proliferation of mobile phones had started to have a political effect.

“People are more widely aware of what is going on and our people are less likely to take things lying down because they feel a sense of solidarity standing up against injustice and oppression,” she told AFP.

The Oxford-educated campaigner was swept into the country’s democracy fight almost by accident when she returned home after years abroad to nurse her sick mother in 1988.

Soon after her return public dissatisfaction with the oppression and economic ruin of military rule boiled over, with student-led protests that were crushed by the army leaving at least 3,000 dead.

Her charismatic speeches quickly earned her a leading role in the burgeoning pro-democracy movement — as well as the enduring antipathy of the generals.

Suu Kyi was locked up for a total of 15 years, mostly in her dilapidated lakeside mansion in Yangon.

She was unable to see her husband Michael Aris before his death from cancer in 1999, and missed seeing her sons grow up.

Known to some supporters as the “iron butterfly” for her unwavering determination, Suu Kyi indicated she had shed some ideals.

“I am not working towards freedom from fear, I am a practical politician working to win the next elections,” she said.

While Suu Kyi still enjoys huge popularity, pulling in crowds of thousands of flag-waving fans at rallies, political life has tarnished her once flawless image.

AFP

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