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Myanmar's Aung San Suu Kyi 'won't rule out' boycotting historic vote

Ahead of the general election later this year, Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi has said the National League for Democracy (NLD) had not ruled out boycotting the vote. Many see her as the country's best hope.

In an interview with the Reuters news agency on Friday, Suu Kyi said her opposition National League for Democracy (NLD) party was "ready to govern." The Nobel laureate warned, however, that President Thein Sein was insincere about reform and might try to postpone the election.

The NLD won Myanmar's last real election in 1990 with a landslide victory, which was nullified by the military. In 2012, however, Suu Kyi and 42 other NLD members entered parliament after a by-election.

'Absolute necessity'

Until four years ago, Myanmar had been governed under brutal military rule under which Suu Kyi was held under house arrest for 15 years. Despite her detainment, the 69-year-old called on Friday for the Myanmar people to reconcile with the military, saying it was an "absolute necessity."

"We can't have a country that is split between the military and the rest of the people," Suu Kyi said.

Asked whether her party would run with the constitution unchanged, Suu Kyi told Reuters that although the NLD doesn't think boycotting the election is the best choice, they're "not ruling it out altogether."

"We are leaving our options open," Suu Kyi said in the capital, Naypyitaw.

The party previously boycotted the general election in 2010, which was widely believed to have been rigged. As a result, Thein Sein, a former general and junta stalwart, was sworn into office.

'Complacent' over reform

Immediately after his electoral victory, Sein's government - which Suu Kyi referred to as Thein Sein's "hardline regime" - implemented a number of political and economic reforms. But five years on, most people's lives have been left unimproved.

Like much of Myanmar's 53 million strong population, Suu Kyi now feels, however, that Thein Sein is no longer sincere about reform.

"If he had been sincere about reform, then we would be much further ahead than we are," Suu Kyi said on Friday.

Suu Kyi also blamed praise from the US and other western powers for causing Thein Sein's government to become "complacent" over reform in the years since his election.

"The United States and the West in general are too optimistic, and a bit of healthy skepticism would help everybody a great deal," Suu Kyi said.

Military power

Fears are also growing that the military - whose immense power continues to go largely unchecked - is again casting a shadow over the impending election. The constitution, drafted by Thein Sein, reserves a quarter of parliamentary seats for military delegates, which effectively allows them to veto any constitutional change.

The constitution also prohibits presidential candidates with a foreign spouse or child from running in the election. Despite her late husband's and two sons' British nationality, Suu Kyi believes that the role of president is still within her reach.

"Why not?" she asked, "Constitutions are not permanent."

Best hope?

Despite her leniency towards the military and her controversial cooperation with Thein Sein's government - particularly over claims she had failed to speak up for the mostly stateless Rohingya Muslims living in poor conditions in western Myanmar - much of the country's diverse nation still regards Suu Kyi as Myanmar's best hope in the forthcoming vote.

November's general election will be "the real test of whether we are on the route to democracy or not," Suu Kyi said.

ksb/rc (Reuters)

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