NAYPYIDAW, March 6 (BSS/AFP) - Pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi urged members of Myanmar's powerful military Tuesday to support her opposition party in April by-elections as she campaigned for votes on the regime's doorstep.
In a sight almost unthinkable until recently, several
thousand people turned out each time the National League for
Democracy (NLD) party leader delivered a speech in areas on the
fringes of the showpiece capital Naypyidaw.
Most people in the crowd appeared to be farm or construction
labourers, not government workers or personnel with the
"Tatmadaw" armed forces, for whom the daughter of Myanmar's
independence hero General Aung San had a special message.
"Every member of the military should note what my father
said. What he said was very simple. He said openly that people
should not become the slaves of the Tatmadaw but the Tatmadaw
must be the foundation of the country," Suu Kyi said.
"It's completely untrue that the NLD is against the
Tatmadaw. We welcome them. So I would like to ask them to vote
for us," she added.
With only 48 seats available nationwide in the April 1
polls, Suu Kyi's NLD cannot threaten the parliamentary majority
of the ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP),
whose top ranks are filled with former generals.
But the vote will be closely watched as a test of the new
quasi- civilian government's reformist credentials.
It is also the first time that Suu Kyi herself is running
for a seat in parliament in the country formerly known as Burma.
While the crowds that greeted Suu Kyi in Naypyidaw were
smaller than elsewhere on the campaign trail, the fact that
supporters dared to attend at all in the regime's backyard is
testimony to the dramatic changes under way.
They gathered in town fields on the outskirts of Naypyidaw,
a sprawling mix of gleaming new parliament buildings, pockets of
scrubland, near-deserted wide boulevards and luxury hotels.
"We hope she will make life better for us. The main thing is
to seek democracy. In previous elections I voted for the lion
(USDP)," said farmer Saw Oo.
The opposition's candidates in the capital, who include the
popular hip-hop artist and former political prisoner Zayar Thaw,
have a tough battle for votes in the city, which is largely home
to government employees.
Myanmar's regime has embarked on a surprising series of
reforms since decades of outright military rule ended last year,
including freeing political detainees and welcoming Suu Kyi back
into mainstream politics.
The NLD won a landslide victory in an election in 1990 but
the ruling junta never accepted the result. A 2010 vote, in which
the USDP claimed a crushing victory, was marred by widespread
complaints of cheating.