Myanmar’s Suu Kyi to contest elections

Myanmar democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi`s long-marginalised opposition party announced on Friday that it would register for future elections.

Yangon: Myanmar democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi`s long-marginalised opposition party announced on Friday that it would register for future elections, paving the way for her to run for office for the first time.

The National League for Democracy (NLD) said it would re-register as a political party and contest coming by-elections after boycotting last year`s poll -- the latest sign of tentative progress in military-dominated Myanmar.

"We have to take part in all (available) constituencies. Why? The NLD has not worked as a political party for a long time so we need to practise as a political party again," Suu Kyi told party delegates, before their official decision was announced.

The NLD won a landslide victory in polls in 1990 but the then-ruling junta never allowed the party to take power. Suu Kyi, although a figurehead for the campaign, was under house arrest throughout.

Myanmar`s next election was not held until November last year, and the NLD boycotted it -- mainly because of rules that would have forced it to expel imprisoned members. Suu Kyi was again under house arrest.

The 66-year-old, who was released a few days after the vote and has spent 15 of the past 22 years in detention, hinted on Friday that she would contest one of the 48 by-election seats available. No polling dates have been announced.

"If I think I should take part in the election, I will. Some people are worried that taking part could harm my dignity. Frankly, if you do politics, you should not be thinking about your dignity," she told senior party members in Yangon.

"I stand for the re-registration of the NLD party. I would like to work effectively towards amending the constitution. So we have to do what we need to do."

Party spokesman Nyan Win said the group would re-register as soon as they could, possibly next week. Asked whether Suu Kyi would stand, he said: "I believe she will."

The party`s gathering came as the US signaled a thaw in relations with the long-isolated nation, with President Barack Obama saying he would send Hillary Clinton on the first trip to Myanmar by a US secretary of state for 50 years.

Obama noted "flickers of progress" in the Southeast Asian country, a day after he spoke directly to Suu Kyi for the first time, although he said more needed to be done.

Speaking in Indonesia ahead of an East Asia summit, the US president said Clinton would visit Myanmar next month to see if Washington can "empower" its nascent reform process. Officials said she would visit for two days from December 1.

Myanmar`s 2010 election, widely discredited by outside observers, brought the army`s political proxies to power after decades of outright military rule, but the new government has surprised critics with a number of reformist moves.

It has held direct talks with Suu Kyi, freed some 200 dissidents from jail, frozen work on an unpopular mega-dam and passed a law giving workers the right to strike.

As a reward for its conciliatory moves, Myanmar has won Southeast Asia`s backing to chair the region`s ASEAN bloc in 2014, despite the United States warning that the move was premature.

Analysts say the return of the NLD would add to the legitimacy of the army-backed government, which is seeking to end its global isolation by loosening political shackles -- but would also increase the relevance of the popular but long-excluded Suu Kyi.

Renaud Egreteau, Myanmar expert at Hong Kong University, said Suu Kyi had been led "back to the game" by Prime Minister Thein Sein.

"It is he and his entourage who have brought Aung San Suu Kyi back to the front of the stage because they need her," he said.

About 100 figures from the NLD travelled from across Myanmar for Friday`s meeting, where delegates for each regional grouping spoke in favour of re-registering as a political party.

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