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Aung San Suu Kyi will take part in 'decisive' Myanmar vote despite 'irregularities' (+video)

Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi expressed concern Friday that Myanmar's Sunday election will not be 'genuinely free and fair,' citing intimidation and interference.

By A Correspondent / March 30, 2012

A supporter holds a picture of pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi during National League for Democracy party candidate Phyu Phyu Thin's campaign rally in Yangon March 30, 2012. Myanmar holds by-elections on Sunday and Suu Kyi is standing for one of 45 parliamentary seats to be filled.

Soe Zeya Tun/Reuters

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Yangon, Myanmar

Myanmar’s opposition leader and pro-democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi warned Friday that Sunday’s by-elections would not be “genuinely free and fair” because of campaign irregularities, but pledged to take part anyway, calling the vote “decisive” for her country’s future.

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Citing intimidation of candidates from her National League for Democracy (NLD), inaccurate voter lists, and illegal interference in the campaign by government officials that she called “beyond what is acceptable,” Ms. Suu Kyi said her party would “try to tolerate” such obstacles and “go forward because that is what we believe our people want.”

Only 45 of parliament’s 664 seats are at stake, and the elections do not threaten the overwhelming majority that the military-backed Union, Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) won in 2010 elections widely seen as fraudulent. But the vote marks the first time in more than two decades that the NLD has contested an election, as Myanmar’s (Burma's) nominally civilian government, dominated by former generals, offers new political freedoms in a bid for international acceptance after half a century of harsh military dictatorship.

The election “is very important symbolically for Burma’s transition to democracy,” says one Western diplomat. Should Suu Kyi win a seat, as expected, her arrival in parliament would be “historic and precedent setting … bringing a different dynamic” to Myanmar’s fledgling reforms.

Suu Kyi, a Nobel laureate who has been under house arrest for the better part of the past 20 years, is running in an election for the first time.

The election is seen as critical to the government’s efforts to persuade the United States and other Western countries to lift crippling economic sanctions. President Thein Sein, a former general, has promised the vote will be clean and has invited international observers to monitor the election.

“The government wants Aung San Suu Kyi in parliament to solve its international credibility problems,” says Thiha Saw, editor of the weekly “Open News.” “It’s not that they love and adore her, but they need her to start the process of lifting sanctions.”

Suu Kyi’s immense national popularity is expected to sweep the NLD to victory in a significant number of seats, though there are no reliable opinion polls in Myanmar. She has earned her moral authority both through her indomitable advocacy of democracy in the face of persistent persecution and the fact that she is the daughter of national hero Gen. Aung San, father of Myanmar’s independence from Britain.

Her party platform, however, like those of the other pro-democracy party the National Democratic Force (NDF) and the USDP, offers little more than generalities to an electorate unused to democracy and widely ignorant of its workings.

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