President Obama made the announcement Friday shortly after he began a series of meetings here with Southeast Asian leaders about regional security, including disaster relief. Obama is the first U.S. president to participate in a meeting of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), whose chairmanship recently was awarded to Burma, also known as Myanmar. The main summit meetings will take place on Saturday.
Burma’s military rulers, who have held power since a 1962 coup, have taken a hard anti-democratic line, cracking down on opposition leaders including Nobel Peace Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, who had been under house arrest for years.
But she was freed last year, and hundreds of other political prisoners have been released since then, suggesting that Burma might be signaling an opening to the West as a hedge in its relationship with China.
At the urging of the United States, Burmese President Thein Sein recently began talks with Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy.
Her party decided Friday to rejoin politics and register for future elections in view of the government’s overtures. The NLD’s decision to register again officially as a political party was reached unanimously in a meeting of senior members from across Burma, the Associated Press reported. Among the members who spoke in favor of reentering Burmese politics was Suu Kyi.
“Personally I am for re-registration,” Suu Kyi told NLD delegates at the party headquarters in Rangoon, AP reported.
The NLD refused to register last year because of a government restriction that barred Suu Kyi from running for office, and the party boycotted Burma’s November 2010 elections. The new government that took office after the elections lifted the restriction this year.
NLD spokesman Nyan Win said Suu Kyi likely would run for office, AP reported. He said the party would file registration papers with the Election Commission as soon “as soon possible.”
The NLD decisively won a 1990 general election, but the ruling junta refused to honor the results and placed Suu Kyi under house arrest for most of the next two decades.
Among its other recent overtures, the new government has created a human rights commission, lifted media restrictions and proposed a new labor organization to represent the rights of workers, senior Obama administration officials said.
Burma also suspended work on a controversial Chinese-sponsored dam on a legendary river inside the country, the officials said.
In his remarks, Obama said he called Suu Kyi on Thursday night from Air Force One as he flew into Bali, and she welcomed Clinton’s visit. Obama said he has seen “flickers of progress” in recent weeks from Thein Sein, whom Obama saw during the ASEAN meeting Friday.