LOIKAW (Myanmar) (TIP): Thousands thronged to see Aung San Suu Kyi’s first rally on Sept 10 as the Myanmar opposition leader launched her bid for historic November elections by touring a remote eastern region seen as a stronghold of the ruling party.
Suu Kyi urged voters to think of future generations in her debut campaign speech to a rapt audience in Kayah state, many wearing the colourful traditional dress of local ethnic groups, as her party’s first nationwide election bid in a quarter of a century gathers steam.
“What kind of country will our children grow up in?What kind of education system (will they have), what kind of healthcare system? Will they have security? We have to think about these things,” she said.
Myanmar is set to go to the polls on November 8 in what many hope will be the country’s freest elections in decades as it emerges from years of military rule.
But while the army has stepped back from outright control, handing over to a quasi-civilian government in 2011, it retains deep roots in the political system, with a quarter of the legislature ring-fenced for unelected soldiers.
Kayah is seen as a stronghold of the army-backed ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), which currently holds every seat in the state after local ethnic parties were sidelined in flawed 2010 elections also boycotted by Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD). The veteran democracy campaigner, whose own constituency is in the rural hamlet of Kawhmu near Yangon, has predicted her party will win a majority in the polls. She has started her campaign by holding rallies in areas of Kayah where president’s office minister Soe Thane and chief peace negotiator Aung Min are set to fight for election as independents.
Myanmar’s seven ethnic minority states will be a key campaign battleground for the elections.
Around a third of the country’s population identify as one of the country’s 135 minority groups, which have their own languages and traditions.
Many of these ethnic regions have fought bitter wars for greater autonomy since the country’s independence from British colonial rule in 1948, and Myanmar’s government has placed a nationwide ceasefire at the heart of its reform drive. Those efforts have produced a ceasefire document — seen as a historic first step in the peace process — but stuttered again this week over lingering mistrust and disagreements over which rebel factions should be allowed to sign the deal.