YANGON, Myanmar [2nd UPDATE] – Ill health has forced Aung San Suu Kyi to abruptly cancel further campaign travel, her party said Sunday, March 25, just a week before Myanmar by-elections that are seen as a key test of regime reforms.
The Nobel laureate, who is running for a seat in parliament in the April 1 polls, was put on a drip and ordered to rest by her personal doctor after falling ill in the town of Myeik in the far south of Myanmar.
But the democracy icon pressed ahead with a final rally in the remote area on Sunday and was cheered by tens of thousands of people as she urged supporters to vote for her National League for Democracy party, according to an AFP photographer at the scene.
“I’m trying to keep in good health,” she told the crowd, apologising for making only a brief speech before rushing to catch a flight back to Yangon.
“I have been encouraged by the people,” she said.
NLD deputy information officer Kyi Toe said Suu Kyi’s health had “deteriorated” during the trip.
“According to the advice of her family doctor Tin Myo Win, she will take a rest at home. She should not travel far for trips anymore,” he told AFP.
A statement from the NLD confirmed the decision to cancel a final campaign trip on Tuesday and Wednesday to Magway, the central Myanmar region where her independence hero father was born.
An increasingly tired-looking Suu Kyi has fallen ill once before during her gruelling schedule of rallies and speeches across the country.
The health of the democracy leader, whose family history and long years of detention have made her a symbol for the democratic aspirations of Myanmar’s people, is likely to be a source of anxiety for the tens of thousands of supporters who have thronged to see her at almost every stage of the campaign.
Suu Kyi fell ill on Saturday after the boat she was traveling in got stuck on a sandbank for several hours during her trip, Tin Myo Win told AFP earlier on Sunday.
“She is exhausted because of being on the boat for such a long time,” he told AFP, adding that she had low blood pressure and had been vomiting.
Next week’s polls are the first time Suu Kyi, whose Kawhmu constituency is near Yangon, has been able to stand for election in a country dominated by the military for decades.
The NLD won a landslide victory in an election in 1990 while she was under house arrest, but the ruling junta never recognized the result and she spent much of the next two decades in detention.
The next election in 2010 swept the army’s political allies to power but was marred by widespread complaints of cheating and by the absence of Suu Kyi, who was again under house arrest and released a few days later.
A new nominally civilian regime has since implemented sweeping changes, including welcoming Suu Kyi’s party back into mainstream politics and releasing hundreds of political prisoners.
The NLD cannot threaten the ruling party’s majority even with a strong result in the April vote.
But experts believe the regime wants Suu Kyi to win a place in parliament to give its reform drive legitimacy and encourage the West to ease sanctions.
On Wednesday, Myanmar said it had invited US, European and other observers for the vote. President Thein Sein also vowed to ensure the by-elections were “transparent” in talks with Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen, according to a Cambodian government spokesman.
The NLD on Monday made several complaints about what it described as “unfair treatment” by the authorities. – Agence France-Presse