CHIANGRI TIMES – Myanmar has promised to “seriously consider” allowing Southeast Asian observers for by-elections marking the opposition’s return to mainstream politics, the ASEAN regional bloc has said.
The 1 April polls, which will see Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi stand for a seat in parliament for the first time, are viewed as a key test of the military-backed government’s commitment to reforms.
The Association of Southeast Asian Nations said in a statement that Myanmar President Thein Sein made the pledge to its visiting Secretary-General Surin Pitsuwan during talks in the capital Naypyidaw.
“We will seriously consider having observers from ASEAN … during the April elections,” Thein Sein was quoted as saying.
A 2010 election which swept the army’s political allies to power was marred by widespread complaints of cheating and intimidation.
Foreign observers and international media were not allowed into the country for that vote, which was denounced by Ms Suu Kyi’s opposition party and Western powers as lacking legitimacy.
Ms Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy party held a news conference yesterday to warn that the fairness of the April vote was also under threat because it was being denied the use of suitable venues for campaign rallies.
However, just hours later the NLD said the authorities had eased the restrictions in a turnaround it described as “very significant.”
The opposition cannot threaten the ruling party’s majority even if it takes all 48 available seats in the by-elections, but a Suu Kyi win would lend legitimacy to the fledgling parliament.
The NLD won a landslide victory in an election in 1990, but the then-ruling junta never allowed the party to take power.
Ms Suu Kyi was under house arrest at the time. She was released from her latest stint in detention a few days after the 2010 vote.
Aung San Suu Kyi’s decision to stand for a seat in parliament is the latest sign of dramatic change taking place in the country after the end last year of nearly half a century of outright military rule.
The regime has surprised observers with reforms including welcoming the NLD back into the political mainstream, signing ceasefire deals with ethnic minority rebels and releasing hundreds of political prisoners.