YANGON, Myanmar – Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi said Friday that campaign irregularities threatened the fairness of upcoming elections, sounding a note of caution over her bid for a seat in parliament.
The Nobel laureate, who spent most of the past 22 years as a political prisoner, complained of a series of problems, including “many, many cases of intimidation” as well as the vandalism of signboards.
“I don’t think we can consider it a genuine free and fair election if we consider what has been happening here over the last few months,” the democracy icon told a news conference ahead of Sunday’s by-elections.
The irregularities are “really beyond what’s acceptable in a democratic election,” she added. “Still, we are determined to go forward because this is what our people want.”
The National League for Democracy (NLD) leader said the polls were boosting people’s interest in politics in the country formerly known as Burma after decades of outright military rule ended last year.
“It is the rising political awareness of our people that we regard as our greatest triumph,” she said. “We don’t at all regret having taken part.”
The polls mark the first time that Suu Kyi is standing for a seat in parliament, and she has drawn huge crowds on the campaign trail.
Experts believe the regime wants the pro-democracy leader to win a seat in a parliament dominated by the army and its political allies to burnish its reform credentials and encourage an end to Western sanctions.
But Suu Kyi said that she had no plan to accept a position as minister in the army-backed government if offered because under the constitution she would be required to give up her seat in parliament.
“I have no intention of leaving the parliament to which I have tried so hard to get into,” she said. But she indicated that she might be willing to take on some kind of non-ministerial role.
The NLD won a landslide election victory in 1990 but was never allowed to take office.
A 2010 election that swept the army’s political proxies to power was marred by complaints of cheating and intimidation, as well as the exclusion of Suu Kyi, who was released from years of house arrest just days later.
The NLD has also complained about what it described as “unfair treatment” by the authorities ahead of Sunday’s vote.
The party said that people in one village were forced by the ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) to attend one of its meetings.
It complained that it was not allowed to use suitable venues for campaign rallies, while in the constituency where Suu Kyi is standing, the names of hundreds of dead people were found on the electoral roll.
President Thein Sein acknowledged in a recent speech that there had been “unnecessary errors” in ballot lists, but said the authorities were trying to ensure the by-elections would be free and fair.
Since taking office a year ago, Thein Sein has carried out reforms including releasing hundreds of political prisoners, easing media restrictions and welcoming the opposition back into mainstream politics.
Unlike in 2010, the government has invited foreign observers and journalists to witness a vote seen as a major test of its reform credentials.
The 45 seats at stake in Sunday’s vote are not enough to threaten the ruling party’s overwhelming majority in parliament but Suu Kyi described the vote as “a step towards step one in democracy”.
She added: “Our opinion is that once we get into parliament we will be able to work towards genuine democratisation.”
A gruelling schedule of rallies and speeches has taken its toll on the health of the opposition leader, who cancelled campaigning this week after she fell ill and was put on a drip during a trip to the south.
“I’ve not been well recently and I’m feeling a little delicate so any difficult questions and I shall faint straight away,” she joked to the hundreds of journalists and diplomats who crammed into the grounds of the crumbling lakeside mansion where she was locked up by the junta until 2010. – Agence France-Presse