Opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi brought her political challenge to the gates of her rivals Monday, campaigning for her party's candidates facing a tough battle in Myanmar's remote, military-dominated capital.
Suu Kyi spoke at two rallies for candidates of her National League for Democracy, who are running in four constituencies in Naypyitaw in the April 1 by-elections. The party is fielding candidates for all 48 seats at stake nationwide after boycotting 2010's general election as unfair.
In this stronghold of the ruling army-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party, she said she had faith in the area's residents.
All four NLD candidates in Naypyitaw are veteran political activists, and two of them were released from prison only in January under an amnesty for political detainees. One of them, 30-year-old Zeyar Thaw, is also a former popular hip-hop singer.
The seats they are contesting were vacated last year by senior members of the Union Solidarity and Development Party who took senior government positions: President Thein Sein, Vice President Tin Aung Myint Oo, Lower House Speaker Thura Shwe Mann and Agriculture Minister Myint Hlaing.
Naypyitaw is a stronghold for the government party. It was custom-built in a backwater area of the country just a decade ago under the then-ruling military junta. It officially replaced Yangon as the capital in 2005 after it was populated with relocated civil servants and a large military base.
Sandar Min, 44, is a former student activist who is the NLD candidate for the lower house seat from Zabu Thiri constituency vacated by Thein Sein, whose moves toward political liberalization after decades of military repression succeeded in luring Suu Kyi's party back into electoral politics.
The NLD had won a 1990 general election but was not allowed by the military to take power. It boycotted the 2010 election, complaining that it was being held under unfair and undemocratic conditions. The party was officially deregistered, but agreed to register itself and contest the polls after Thein Sein pushed through changes it sought in the election law.
Zeyar Thaw and Sandar Min said at least three of the candidates in Naypyitaw faced various obstacles during canvassing, such as being barred from the use of some venues for mass meetings and having party signboards slashed.
Sandar Min said that some villagers who had attended her meeting were harassed by local authorities.
"We are taking a risk by asking our NLD candidates to contest from Naypyitaw constituencies. We took the risk because I have faith in the people of this township," Suu Kyi said to about 2,000 people gathered at an open field in Zabu Thiri township, which is on the outskirts of the capital city itself. According to Sandar Min, an estimated 37,000 of about 43,000 eligible voters in Zabu Thiri are civil servants.
"I am surprised to see such a large crowd here," said Suu Kyi. "I am encouraged and you have raised my hopes." She was to campaign in the other constituencies on Tuesday.
Zeyar Thaw, 31, a former hip-hop singer who took part in 2007's Buddhist monk-led mass protests and help found the 'Generation Wave' student protest group, was arrested in 2008 and serving a six-year prison term before being released under an amnesty in May 2011. He is contesting the seat in Pobba Thiri constituency vacated by the Tin Aung Myint Oo, who became vice president.
" I became an activist basically because as a young person, I wanted to stand against injustice and unfairness," he said. " I decided to become a politician when I realized that my actions as an activist could not bring about sufficient and effective results. I decided that if I want to seriously engage in politics, I should join a political party and then become a politician."