RANGOON, Burma — Opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi said Friday that Burma’s landmark weekend elections will be neither free nor fair because of widespread irregularities, but she vowed to continue her candidacy for the sake of the long-repressed nation.
Suu Kyi said opposition candidates had been targeted in stone-throwing incidents, campaign posters vandalized and members of her party intimidated during the run-up to Sunday’s closely watched parliamentary by-elections.
In a news conference on the lawn of her crumbling lakeside residence in Rangoon, the 66-year-old Nobel Peace Prize laureate said government officials were involved in some of the irregularities, which she said go “beyond what is acceptable for democratic elections.”
“Still,” she said, “we are determined to go forward because we think this is what our people want.”
The vote to fill 45 vacant seats in the 664-member parliament comes after months of surprising reforms carried out by Burma’s nominally civilian post-junta government, including the release of political prisoners, truces with rebel groups and a dramatic easing of media censorship. The poll is seen as a crucial test of the country’s commitment to change, and Western nations have held out the possibility of lifting some sanctions if all goes smoothly.
In a televised speech Sunday, President Thein Sein admitted to “unnecessary errors” in ballot lists and asked voters and politicians to respect “the decision of the people.”
On Friday, presidential adviser Nay Zin Latt said: “There could be some flaws and some bumps in the process, but our leaders have publicly said that their policy is to hold a free, fair and impartial election.”
What’s important, he added, is that “the country is on its reform road and is in the process of building a democratic society.”
The vote is likely to mark a symbolic turning point by bringing Suu Kyi into parliament for the first time since she emerged to lead the country’s struggle for democracy nearly a quarter of a century ago. She spent most of that time under house arrest, and her candidacy has raised hopes for a more representative government after almost 50 years of military rule.
It could also set the stage for her to run for president in the next national poll in 2015.
Still, with parliament overwhelmingly dominated by the ruling party and with 25 percent of seats allotted to the army, Suu Kyi and her opposition colleagues will be hard-pressed to achieve much if they are elected.