Bumese pro-democracy and opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi said problems with the country’s historic Sunday vote have gone “beyond what is acceptable,” but vowed to fight on in the by-elections, in which she is widely expected to win a seat in parliament.
Winding down her campaign, she said Friday that the credibility of the by-elections, considered a key test of the government’s commitment to reforms, had been marred by irregularities.
“While we recognize that even in well established democracies there are irregularities and misdemeanors when elections take place, [those that] have been happening in this country are really beyond what is acceptable for a democratic election,” she said, addressing supporters in Rangoon.
Foreign governments including the U.S. and EU have hinted that they would consider lifting long-running sanctions against the country if the by-elections are conducted freely and fairly.
She said her National League for Democracy (NLD) party, which boycotted 2010 elections on the grounds they were neither free nor fair, was participating in the current by-elections despite the unfair conditions because of the Burmese people’s eagerness to participate in the political process.
“We are determined to go forward because we think this is what our people want,” said the Nobel laureate who had spent most of the last two decades under house arrest before her release in November 2010.
She said the by-elections - in which the NLD is contesting 44 of 45 seats vacated by lawmakers appointed to the cabinet - were an important political exercise in Burma, which has limited experience in holding ballots after decades of years of isolation and often brutal army rule.
“The second and more important part of our campaign was to raise the political awareness of our people and in this I can say that we have been extremely successful. We have been energized and encouraged greatly by the response of our people, by their eagerness and preparedness to take part in the political process of the country,” she said.
“That in itself is a triumph for us whatever the outcome of the elections may be.”
The NLD has complained of widespread voting fraud and irregularities in its campaign, including voter registration lists that included the names of dead people.
"There have been cases of vandalism of NLD signboards and posters and many, many cases of intimidation,” Aung San Suu Kyi said.
Two of the NLD’s candidates suffered attacks, including one in the capital Naypyidaw two weeks ago in which a guard was injured and another this week in Taungoo.
The NLD is competing for seats mainly against the military-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), the successor party to the military regime that ruled the country for decades.
Even if the NLD wins all the seats it is contesting, the vote will not affect the balance of power in parliament, which will continue to be dominated by the USDP.
Voting has been cancelled in northern Burma’s Kachin state, where fighting between government troops and ethnic Kachin rebels has escalated since the beginning of the year, the Union Election Commission announced last week.
Aung San Suu Kyi challenged the cancellation, which reduces the number of parliamentary seats up for grabs from 48 to 45.
“We have been told that this is for reasons of security,” she said.
“The National League for Democracy has questioned this decision by the Elections Commission because we do not think that there are any problems of security in the Kachin state in those townships where the elections were supposed to have taken place,” she said.
The NLD has urged Burmese authorities to make a deal with the Kachin Independence Organization so that the voting in the three constituencies can go forward.
The Kachin Independence Organization promised Thursday it would not interrupt Sunday elections.
Asked about how the ongoing conflict in Kachin state could be solved, Aung San Suu Kyi said better trust could be built through with a democratic government.
“In my view, it is basically due to the weakness in trust,” she said.
“To be able to build trust and unity, there has to be mutual respect, and the Panglong spirit has to be there,” she said, referring to the 1947 agreement negotiated between the Burmese government under her father General Aung San and ethnic groups in the country.
“All the ethnic groups are asking for this. As agreed in Panglong, the ethnic groups are longing to build a democratic country with equality, self determination, self government, etc. If we all have understanding on this and unit on this, I don't think this is difficult to solve.”
Reported by Kyaw Kyaw Aung for RFA’s Burmese service. Translated by Khin May Zaw. Written in English by Rachel Vandenbrink.