Aung San Suu Kyi to run in Burmese byelections

Burmese opposition leader and Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi has confirmed she will run for a parliamentary seat in April byelections.
Aung San Suu Kyi, the leader Burma's pro-Democracy Party, will seek a seat in the country's parliament in April byelections. (Soe Zeya Tun/Reuters)

Burmese opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi has confirmed she will run for a parliamentary seat in April byelections.

Party spokesman Nyan Win said Tuesday that the Nobel Peace Prize winner announced during a party meeting that she will seek a seat in suburban Rangoon, her hometown and the largest city in Burma, which is also known as Myanmar.

Suu Kyi's presence will add star power and significance to upcoming byelections that will be held nearly one year after nominally democratic elections ended a half century of military rule.

Her National League for Democracy Party decided to rejoin electoral politics amid signs that the new government is easing years of repression.

Suu Kyi said last year that she would run for parliament but had appeared to backtrack since then. A victory would give the Nobel Peace Prize winner and longtime political prisoner a voice in parliament for the first time in her decades-long role as the country's opposition leader.

She was under house arrest during November 2010 elections, which were boycotted by her National League for Democracy Party in part because she was barred from participating. The elections, Burma's first in 20 years, replaced a ruling military junta with a government that remains strongly linked to the military but has taken steps toward easing decades of repression.

Suu Kyi's decision to personally contest the April polls is the latest vote of confidence for government reforms that include the legalization of labour unions, increasing press freedom and opening a dialogue with Suu Kyi herself.

Party spokesman Nyan Win said Tuesday that Suu Kyi announced during a party meeting on Monday that she would seek a parliamentary seat in the Rangoon suburb of Kawhmu. Rangoon is the largest city in Burma — sometimes known as Myanmar — and Suu Kyi's hometown.

As recently as last week, Suu Kyi had declined to confirm whether she would personally contest a seat, telling The Associated Press her decision would be announced later this month. She also expressed cautious optimism about the government's reforms.

"I think there are obstacles, and there are some dangers that we have to look out for," Suu Kyi said. "I am concerned about how much support there is in the military for changes."

Even if Suu Kyi's party wins all 48 seats to be contested April 1, it will have minimal power. Most of the seats were vacated by lawmakers who became cabinet ministers after the first parliamentary session last January.

The military is guaranteed 110 seats in the 440-seat lower house and 56 seats in the 224-seat upper house, and the main pro-military party holds 80 per cent of the remaining 498 elected seats.

Suu Kyi's party won a sweeping victory in the 1990 general election but the junta refused to honour the results. The military regime kept Suu Kyi under intermittent house arrest for 15 years, hoping to snuff out her popularity. Despite never having held elected office, she became Burma's most recognizable face and an icon for the country's pro-democracy movement.

Countries that imposed sanctions on Burma under the previous military government have taken at least tentative steps to improve relations. In November, Hillary Rodham Clinton became the first U.S. secretary of state to visit the country in more than 50 years; on Monday, Australia became the first country to ease sanctions against Myanmar's ruling elite.