Aung San Suu Kyi campaigns for Myanmar Parliament
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.