Kawhmu: Thousands of cheering supporters swarmed opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi on Saturday as the democracy icon took her historic campaign for a Parliament seat to the southern constituency she hopes to represent for the first time.
Supporters waving her political party`s flag came out in force to catch a glimpse of the 66-year-old Nobel Peace laureate as her convoy crawled from the main city Yangon to Kawhmu, a poor, rural district to the south.
The 16-mile (25-kilometer) journey down a crumbling road took three hours, underscoring how undeveloped Myanmar is after half a century of military rule, an era from which the country has only now begun to emerge.
Banners proclaimed "We`re All in This Together!" while music blared from loudspeakers with homespun lyrics that screamed: Myanmar "will prosper only after Daw Suu wins the race”.
"Daw" is an honorific of respect used for older women. Suu Kyi is running in an April 01 by-election that is being held to fill 48 parliamentary seats vacated by lawmakers who were appointed to the Cabinet or other posts last year.
The vote is widely seen as a test of the new government`s commitment to reform after nearly half a century of iron-fisted military rule.
Even if Suu Kyi`s party wins all 48 seats, however, it will have minimal power. The 440-seat lower house is overwhelmingly dominated by ruling party allies of the former junta and 25 percent of lawmakers are, by law, military appointees.
At a youth meeting on Thursday, Suu Kyi told party members that "even one seat is important”.
A victory would be historic for Suu Kyi, who spent most of the last two decades under house arrest. She would have a voice in government for the first time after decades as the country`s opposition leader.
In 1990, while she was still under house arrest, her party won a sweeping election victory but the then-ruling military junta refused to honour the results.
The nominally civilian government that inherited power last year after 2010 elections that Suu Kyi`s party boycotted has embarked on a series of reforms that have surprised even some of the country`s toughest critics. It has released hundreds of political prisoners, signed cease-fire deals with ethnic rebels, and increased media freedoms.
The government hopes the changes will prompt the lifting of economic sanctions imposed under the junta`s rule. Western governments and the United Nations have said they will review the sanctions only after gauging whether the April polls are carried out freely and fairly.