The two key opposition parties contesting the Nov. 7 polls in Burma are confident of making some headway even though the ruling military junta's proxy parties are widely expected to win in what have been dubbed "sham" elections.
Lacking resources and facing military restrictions, the National Democratic Force (NDF) and Union Democratic Party (UDP) expect to reap up to 80 percent of the seats contested in the area of the former capital, Rangoon, according to optimistic predictions by party officials on Nov.3.
There is little or no chance of the opposition winning the first Burmese election in 20 years, as they are contesting fewer seats compared to those vied by the junta's proxy parties. Furthermore, 25 percent of seats are reserved for military officers under a constitution passed by a referendum in 2008.
Under such a scenario, the junta's key proxy, the Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), is expected to win hands down.
It will contest in almost every seat open, with candidates in 1,171 seats, and more than those fielded by the second largest party, the National Unity Party, a spinoff from the former Burmese Socialist Programme Party founded by ex-dictator Gen Ne Win.
USDP secretary Htay U, a recently retired Major General, said in a recent statement that the party had already won 52 constituencies uncontested.
The NDF is an offshoot of detained democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy (NLD), which is boycotting the elections.
UDP leader Theim Tin Aung said his party faced little harassment from the authorities as members used loudspeakers to campaign and distributed pamphlets to potential voters to project the party agenda.
Supporters of Suu Kyi meanwhile continued to defy the authorities and held protests calling for a boycott of the polls.
Another NLD youth official, Eye Thwin, was detained for questioning and subsequently released on Nov. 3 as he distributed anti-election pamphlets. Security officials also deleted photographs from a camera he was carrying.
A day earlier, former political prisoner U Thein Aung was held for questioning over protests that were held.
The NLD, led by detained Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, won the country's last election, in 1990, in a landslide, but the generals ignored the result.
Suu Kyi is under house arrest, and her party was dissolved because it refused to register for participation in the polls.
UN seeks China's help
U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki Moon said he was concerned about the post-election scenario in Burma and asked China to help steer its southern neighbor to a "positive direction."
"I see it as an important test. Will the vote perpetuate an untenable status quo? Or will it set the country on course toward a more open, democratic, and inclusive political future?" Ban said in a speech Nov. 2 at the ruling Communist Party's central training institute.
"As a trusted neighbor and friend, China's role will be critical in helping the U.N. to help Myanmar [Burma] find its way forward."
Also in the run-up to the election, Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (Burma) released a special report on the status of political prisoners under the military rule, saying their number had increased to 2,203.
"Currently, there are still arrests, and torture continues," AAPP joint secretary Bo Kyi told RFA, stressing that without their release, there will be no free and fair elections.
"These political prisoners include many key players for Burma's political change. There will be no free and fair election without releasing them," he said.
It was estimated previously that there were 2,100 political prisoners, from 1,100 last year.
Twelve elected lawmakers from the 1990 elections are among those in prison together with 413 NLD members, according to the AAPP, a group set up by ex-political prisoners.
At least 40 journalists and bloggers are also languishing in prisons.
Reported by Tin Aung Khine, Nay Rein Kyaw, and Zaw Moe Kyaw for Radio Free Asia's Burmese service. Translated by Soe Win. Written in English by Parameswaran Ponnudurai.