Myanmar State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi on Tuesday officially registered to run for her seat in parliament for a third time in November general elections that are widely seen as a referendum on her party’s five years in office.
Hundreds of supporters awaited the 75-year-old democracy icon’s arrival at the election commission office in Thanlyin, a town that lies across the Bago River from Yangon, the historic capital once known as Rangoon.
“She has come to register herself as a candidate for the House of Representatives as a part of the procedure,” said Kyaw Moe Kyi, head of the election commission office. “We have assessed and accepted the registration.”
A spokesman for the ruling National League for Democracy (NLD) welcomed Aung San Suu Kyi’s candidacy for the seat in Yangon region's Kawhmu township and said the party would work to win the election in the southern part of Myanmar’s biggest city.
Some members of the crowd, however, handed Aung San Suu Kyi complaint letters about land disputes in her district, and she accepted two from them before leaving.
Myanmar has 96 registered political parties whose candidates will compete for 1,171 seats available in both houses of the national parliament and in state and regional legislatures on Nov. 8.
Aung San Suu Kyi became Myanmar’s de facto leader after her pro-democracy NLD party swept the 2015 elections. She continues to enjoy broad support at home even as her reputation abroad has been tarnished by her handling of the expulsion of Rohingya Muslims in the western state of Rakhine.
Aung San Suu Kyi came to power in 2016 as a welcome change from decades of military rule in the nation of 54 million people, with a pledge to end long and costly wars with armed ethnic groups along Myanmar’s borders with Thailand, China, and India.
While peace talks continued to sputter, however, Aung San Suu Kyi appeared at an international court in The Hague and defended the 2017 military-led crackdown on the Rohingyas in Rakhine that left thousands dead and drove more than 740,000 others into Bangladesh.
Though United Nations investigators said the campaign of violence had been carried out with “genocidal intent,” Aung San Suu Kyi echoed the military’s stock response that the exodus was driven by a “clearance operation” to sweep northern Rakhine of insurgents.
Back on the ground in Kawhmu, an opponent of the ruling party is focusing on land disputes that pit developers backed by the military or state against local residents.
David Hla Myint, who ran on the NLD’s ticket in the 1990 elections but later quit the party, is running against Aung San Suu Kyi in the township, a southern coastal area with more than 90,000 registered voters.
“Our party has been involved in resolving many land confiscation problems in the region,” said the politician who is now chairman of the relatively new United Nationalities Democracy Party (UNDP).
“In the current political atmosphere, I believe it is the best for me to contest in Kawhmu township,” David Hla Myint told RFA’s Myanmar Service, adding that his party was not intimidated by running against Aung San Suu Kyi.
“Our party has the best strategy to resolve the problems in this township, and the central committee has decided to assign me as a candidate,” he said.
Besides the UNDP, the main opposition Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) party, the newly formed Union Betterment Party, chaired by former lower house speaker Shwe Mann, and independent candidates are also running in Kawhmu township.
Political analyst Maung Maung Soe said the candidates have very little chance of winning against Aung San Suu Kyi.
“As for the rival candidates and parties, they know their chances of winning are very slim,” he said. “But they can still contest for the township to showcase their different political stances.”
Reported by Aung Theinkha for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Ye Kaung Myint Maung. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.