YANGON, MYANMAR, MAY 26 -- Opponents of the military rulers in Myanmar, formerly Burma, said today they were pessimistic about Sunday's scheduled parliamentary elections, the first here in 30 years.
About 20 million voters are registered to vote for a 485-seat legislature in the elections, promised to be "free and fair" by the military government when it took power in September 1988 after crushing a massive uprising against harsh military rule.
But the opposition, which has survived months of army repression, must contest the poll with its most dynamic leaders under arrest and banned from running. In addition, opposition politicians said the ruling junta has not made it clear whether the new parliament will have any real power.
About 100 troops continued today to surround the home of Aung San Suu Kyi, the secretary general of the opposition National League for Democracy, who has been under house arrest since July. Tin Oo, another popular leader of the league, has been imprisoned.
Otherwise troops remained out of sight, with just a few military trucks passing through streets filled with shoppers. Streets where troops gunned down hundreds of demonstrators for democracy 20 months ago showed few signs of election fever today.
The few Burmese willing to talk to foreign journalists said they supported the National League for Democracy (NLD) but believed Sunday's election would change little. "I love the NLD but I'm sure they won't win," said one young market stall holder.
At the league's headquarters, there was a mixture of brash Western-style electioneering tempered with pessimism about the party's chances.
Burmese pop music blared from loudspeakers over stalls where young party workers sold T-shirts, badges and posters of Aung San Suu Kyi and Tin Oo.
NLD officials said the party's popularity counted for little if the elections were rigged or the army chose not to hand over power to the winners.
"I'm not very optimistic," said executive committee member Khin Maung Swe.