April 1, 2012, is the date Myanmar’s military-backed civilian government has set aside for parliamentary by-elections.
Opposition leader and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi – forced to live under house arrest for years – is slated to run, along with other candidates from her National League for Democracy (NLD) Party.
If the vote is free and fair, as Myanmar’s president, Thein Sein, has promised, it could go a little way in helping to democratize the government. The United States says it will reduce sanctions after April 1, if the elections are fair. But the key test is what comes after that.
In 1990, the NLD won elections only for the Army to keep Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi under house arrest for 15 years rather than let her govern. Aung San Suu Kyi remains hugely popular and there is little doubt she will be elected this year to parliament.
Though letting Aung San Suu Kyi take a seat would be a significant about-face for the government, only 40 seats of the 440 lower house seats are available, so the balance of power would not change. The Army holds a veto-wielding 25 percent of the seats, and almost 80 percent of the rest are held by the Army-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party.