Myanmar opposition to run in November polls despite doubts

AP News
Posted: Jul 11, 2015 8:49 AM
Myanmar opposition to run in November polls despite doubts

NAYPYITAW, Myanmar (AP) — The Myanmar opposition party led by Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi announced Saturday it will contest the general election on Nov. 8 despite misgivings about transparency, in an effort to challenge the ruling military-backed party.

"We will contest the election to continue implementing the democratic transition that has yet to be achieved," Suu Kyi told reporters in the capital, Naypyitaw.

Suu Kyi is still unable to run for president after lawmakers recently turned down efforts to amend the constitution. Her party boycotted the 2010 polls because it considered election rules to be unfair. It took part in by-elections in 2012 after changes were made, winning almost all seats it contested — which nonetheless represented a small bloc in Parliament.

Myanmar was under army rule from 1962 until 2011, when the military-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party took power. President Thein Sein, a senior leader in the former military government, introduced surprising reforms, especially in the economy, but their pace has slowed, and the military still is the ultimate power-holder.

Asked if the elections will be free and fair, Suu Kyi replied: "Not completely."

She said the main concern is the voter list, which she said contains "many, many errors. ... It means that the voter concerned will not be allowed to cast his or her vote on the day of the election and this is a grave concern for us."

Her party has repeatedly said the election cannot be free or fair if the constitution is not amended.

The constitution was enacted during military rule, and gives the army a dominant say in the administration of the country. One clause mandates that 25 percent of the seats in Parliament must be held by the military, ensuring it has veto power over constitutional amendments. Another clause has the effect of barring Suu Kyi from presidency.

Suu Kyi's party was on the cusp of taking power in 1990, when it won a landslide victory, two years after a pro-democracy uprising was crushed by the military, and Suu Kyi — daughter of the country's independence hero Gen. Aung San — became the country's most popular political figure.

They had won although she and senior colleagues were in detention, only to have the polls declared invalid by the army. Two decades of sharp repression followed.

A total of 498 seats for the lower and upper houses, 644 region and state parliament seats and 29 seats representing ethnic groups are up for grabs in November.

U.S. State Department spokesman Mark Toner said Wednesday that a credible vote will be an important step in Myanmar's democratic transition.

He said the U.S. was providing technical support to the election commission, political parties and civil society to ensure elections are "inclusive and transparent." But the influential leader of the U.S. Senate, Mitch McConnell, said the United States should not provide trade benefits to Myanmar until after November parliamentary elections indicate the state of political reform .

McConnell strongly criticized Myanmar's government for blocking constitutional changes last month.


Associated Press writers Aye Aye Win in Yangon, Myanmar and Grant Peck in Bangkok contributed to this report.