Burmese opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi is expressing doubts about the fairness of Sunday’s by-elections, which are considered a crucial barometer of the government’s commitment to political reform. The Nobel Peace laureate held a news conference with journalists.
Two days before the opening of the polls for Burma’s April 1st by-election, candidate Aung San Suu Kyi addressed journalists, diplomats, and observers at a news conference in the garden at her home.
The pro-democracy leader fell ill last week after two months of nonstop campaigning across the country, where she had been greeted by thousands of adoring supporters. She said her grueling schedule has left her feeling physically “delicate,” but that would not deter her from spending the night in her constituency, the village of Kawhmu.
Aung San Suu Kyi, who is favored to win her constituency, was quick to point out that the election cannot be termed free and fair.
"As I said earlier, 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, but still as we wish to work towards national reconciliation we will try to tolerate what has happened and we hope the courage and resolution of the people will over come the intimidations and other irregularities that have been taking place."
Election observers were not allowed to enter the country until just a week before the election. Opposition groups say voter lists have been stacked with the names of the dead, and some candidates and voters have been intimidated and bribed.
Although Aung San Suu Kyi’s party chose not to participate in the last election because it was unfair, she insists that participating this time is a good idea. She said she does not feel that she has been used to legitimize the current government and help convince Western nations to lift sanctions. She said her party had two goals: to win all seats they are contending, and to help politically awaken the Burmese people.
“It is the rising political awareness of our people which we regard as our greatest triumph," she said. "This has been most encouraging from all parts of the country. And we have been particularly encouraged by the participation of young people everywhere. This all bodes very well for the future of our country. And it shows that there’s great potential after decades of acquiescence one might expect that very few of our people would be in a position to take part in this process. But we have found that they are quick to wake up and quick to understand what the issues."
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'A vital step'
Aung San Suu Kyi said she felt the elections would be a vital step toward national reconciliation. She referred in particular to conflict in Burma’s restive border areas, but seemed hopeful that resolution of the conflict is within reach.
“We have been particularly encouraged by the response in the ethnic nationality states, in the Kachin State, in the Shan state and the Mon state. We have found that there is great potential for a true democratic union, because we do not find that there are any fundamental differences between what we want and what the people of the ethnic nationality states want. We are after all the Burmese, simply a majority among many ethnic nationality groups in Burma," she said.
Her optimism came with a caveat, and she identified the cooperation of the military as a vital element to moving forward with reform.
While she was outspoken on the vote’s credibility, Aung San Suu Kyi did not directly answer policy questions, explaining that she needs to first gain entry to parliament in the capital, Naypyitaw, before discussing her specific goals there.
A Look at Some of Burma's Key Political Parties
National League for Democracy
- Aung San Suu Kyi's party was founded in 1988 after a popular uprising
- Won the 1990 parliamentary elections in a landslide but results never recognized by the military regime
- Boycotted 2010 elections and was stripped of legal party status
- Contesting 44 seats
Union Solidarity and Development Party
- Current ruling party
- Formed by current President Thein Sein and other members of military junta
- Won vast majority in 2010 election
- Contesting all 45 seats
- It will retain its majority in parliament regardless of the results
National Democratic Force
- Formed by breakaway NLD members
- Won several seats in the 2010 election
- Contesting about 10 seats
Shan Nationalities League for Democracy
- The second largest winning party in the 1990 elections
- Boycotted the 2010 elections
- Often sides with Aung San Suu Kyi's NLD party
Shan Nationalities Democratic Party
- Widely known as the White Tiger Party
- Won 57 seats in the 2010 elections
- Contesting seats in only a handful of constituencies
National Unity Party
- Formed bythe military junta and members of the former Burma Socialist Program Party
- Defeated badly by the NLD in 1990 elections
- Fielded the second highest number of candidates in the 2010 election but defeated badly again