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Electoral campaign kicks off in Myanmar

September 8, 2015

More than 90 political parties have taken part in the parliamentary campaign, which are being closely watched as the next step toward democracy. Myanmar had been run by a military junta for 50 years.

Myanmar Wahlkampf
Image: Getty Images/AFP/Y. A. Thu

Campaigning in Myanmar officially opened Tuesday with politicians turning to pictures, buzzwords and personalities to mark themselves out.

The November 8 polls will be the first since a nominally civilian government was installed in 2011. But with the military still firmly in control of the process, there is widespread speculation as to whether the election will be free and fair.

Parties have taken to using brightly colored images featuring fighting peacocks, lions and bamboo hats to dazzle voters and attract attention. Despite relatively high levels of literacy in the nation of 53 million people, the run-up to the vote has been notable for the absence of any debate or policy platforms.

Maung Zarni, a Myanmar analyst based in Britain, is concerned the elections could prove a wasted opportunity to educate a public unfamiliar with electoral debate.

"In some places people won't even know the name of the candidate (when they vote) but this is also driving unhappiness among more informed voters who want to know about policy," Zarni told the AFP news agency.

High expectations for opposition National League for Democracy

Myanmar Wahlkampf
Opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi's party will take part in the elections after boycotting the 2010 pollsImage: Reuters/Soe Zeya Tun

The polls will still be the first time opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy party has contested a general election in 25 years.

"For the first time in decades, our people will have a real chance of bringing about real change," Suu Kyi said, in a message posted on her party's Facebook page. "We hope that the whole world understands how important it is for us to have free and fair elections."

The NLD is expected to make impressive gains at the expense of the ruling party, and may even win a majority. The last time the NLD took part in a national election was in 1990 when it won by a landslide.

But the results were annulled by the ruling military junta which arrested Suu Kyi and put her under house arrest for 15 years where she was held virtually incommunicado.

The party boycotted the nationwide poll in 2010 because their leader, a Nobel Peace Prize recipient, was still under house arrest and barred from taking part.

International observers condemned 2010 polls for widespread irregularities.

After the democratic reforms of 2011, in which the ruling military elite shed uniforms and began running as electoral candidates, a by-election was held in 2012.

Her party entered the race, winning 43 of the 44 seats it contested - including Suu Kyi's first elected post as a member of parliament.

"We hope to take our country to that point where there can be no return from genuine development in the democratic direction," Suu Kyi said in the video message Tuesday. "Please help us by observing what happens before the elections, during the elections and, crucially, after the elections."

jar/kms (AP, AFP)