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Celebrity, Novelty Mark Burmese Political Season

Burma's April by-elections decide only a small minority of seats in national and regional legislatures, but that hasn't diminished this month's massive outpouring of enthusiasm.

Emotional crowds have been gathering by the tens of thousands across Burma to cheer on Aung San Suu Kyi, whom they lovingly refer to as Mother Suu, as her National League for Democracy (NLD) party fields a star-studded cast of former political prisoners, such as Zeya Thaw, a well-known hip hop artist.

Little more than a year ago, Suu Kyi was still under house arrest, and now her presence on the campaign trail is another sign of rapid change in a country stifled by military rule for more than 60 years, and campaign rallies have become festive occasions.

Journalists such as May Htwe, a local videographer, cover the election with newfound freedom. she says many are drawn by the spectacle of a campaign that would have been unthinkable just 18 months ago.

"I think this crowd of people some don’t really know about NLD and politics, they just want to see Daw Suu," she says.

But despite the excitement, some remain wary of talking to foreign media.

"I'm just here because I’ve never seen Daw Suu before, but I have nothing more to say," says one man.

Suu Kyi’s fame has turned her party's headquarters into a popular tourist destination, and many visitors, like French traveler Francine, say they are deeply touched by her story.

"Of course it would be a great honor to meet The Lady," she says. "I think she is very courageous and has led an exceptional life."

Despite concrete signs of reform, though, NLD election campaign manager U Nyan Win still worries about the vote’s fairness.

"We're facing many difficulties right now, especially with irregularities in voter lists, and especially in the Lady's township in Kawhmu," he says. "There are some underage voters on the list, some as young as ten or eleven years old."

Organizers say they hope Suu Kyi's star power and its accompanying international scrutiny will help ensure a clean election.