Suu Kyi cheered along campaign trail
Burma's opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi was met by cheering crowds Saturday as she campaigned for parliament. A win would bring legitimacy to a government that needs Suu Kyi on its side if it is to obtain the lifting of Western sanctions.
AFP - Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi was greeted by cheering crowds Saturday as she hit the campaign trail in the constituency where she is standing for parliament for the first time.
Thousands of excited supporters lined the roads to greet her convoy of dozens of vehicles, waving flags of her National League for Democracy (NLD) party and photos of Suu Kyi and her father, Myanmar independence hero Aung San.
The democracy icon has already made two campaign trips outside the city ahead of April's by-elections, but this is her first day taking to the streets of the rural township of Kawhmu, near Yangon, where she is contesting the vote.
Shouts of "We warmly welcome mother Suu!" and "Long live Daw (Aunt) Aung San Suu Kyi!" rang out amid the cheers.
The NLD cannot threaten the army-backed party's ruling majority even if it wins all 48 available seats, but the vote has important symbolic value as the first time Suu Kyi has been able to directly participate in a Myanmar election.
"I would like to ask for people to believe in us, as we respect and cherish the people," she told the crowds gathered for her speech in one of the constituency's villages.
"Without the support of the people, no organisation and nobody can work for the benefit of the country. We can win anything if the people are involved in it," she said.
A widely-expected win for Suu Kyi would lend strong legitimacy to the country's parliament, which first convened early last year and is dominated by former generals who kept her in detention for much of the past two decades.
"I'm very glad I can see her," said 31-year-old housewife Nang Naing Naing Oo after Suu Kyi visited her village. "I expect she will work not just for one village but for the development and success of the whole country."
The NLD won a landslide victory in an election in 1990, but the then-ruling junta never allowed the party to take power. Suu Kyi was a figurehead for the party's campaign despite being under house arrest at the time.
She was released from her latest stint in detention a few days after a much-criticised election in 2010, and the upcoming polls are being held to fill places vacated by those who have since become government and deputy ministers.
Ahead of the campaign day, Suu Kyi insisted her party -- which boycotted the 2010 election -- was taking nothing for granted.
"We will work very hard to win all 48 seats. It's not a matter of expectations, it's a matter of hard work," the Nobel Peace Prize winner said.
Controversy surrounding the 2010 vote means the by-elections will be heavily scrutinised.
But the new regime has impressed even sceptics with its reform process, which has included signing ceasefire deals with ethnic minority rebels as well as welcoming the NLD back into the political mainstream.
Observers say the government needs Suu Kyi, an international idol, on [its] side in order to garner support from Western powers and get the strict economic sanctions they impose lifted.
"No one will make a single move before she gives the green light," said a Western diplomat focused on Myanmar, requesting anonymity.
The release of hundreds of political prisoners, a key demand of Suu Kyi and the West, has been particularly welcomed and led the United States to begin restoring full diplomatic relations.
On Monday, Washington also announced a waiver to allow it to support assessments in the country by international financial institutions including the World Bank.
Despite Myanmar's progress, the brief detention of a leading dissident monk on Friday sparked concern among observers, coming less than a month after his release from a jail term imposed for his role in a 2007 anti-junta uprising.