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Suu Kyi tells NLD faithful to stay strong

November 2, 2015

Aung San Suu Kyi has called for calm as Myanmar's November 8 election approaches. The opposition leader spoke Sunday at a rally on the outskirts of Myanmar's largest city, Yangon.

Aung San Suu Kyi
Image: Reuters/C. McNaughton

Some 50,000 ecstatic National League for Democracy (NLD) supporters swarmed onto a large playing field at a rally in eastern Yangon on Sunday, waiting for hours in the blazing sunshine to hear Aung San Suu Kyi speak.

"I want to tell you again to vote for us if you want to see real changes in the country," said the 70-year-old Nobel laureate later in her speech.

Suu Kyi had hoped to hold the rally in the center of Yangon, near the revered Shwedagon Pagoda, reviving memories of her first-ever political speech in 1988, but city authorities refused her request. That 1988 speech had put her on a collision course with the then-military junta and marked the beginning of Suu Kyi's long and difficult political odyssey. Suu Kyi's party won the last openly contested poll in 1990, taking 392 of 492 seats, but the army threw out the results and arrested her.

The junta jailed, killed and exiled dissidents and fixed elections or ignored their results. The opposition leader spent 15 years under house arrest during the military dictatorship. Leaders released her five years ago as the junta prepared to step back from power in 2011 with the election of President Thein Sein, and the country has since moved toward democratization, though the military still maintains a powerful position.

'Bad ways'

Sunday's rally came days after a stabbing at another event left an NLD member wounded. Suu Kyi asked the crowds to maintain stability right up to the end of campaigning for the first open national vote since 1990.

"There are some who are thinking to use bad ways to try to win," Suu Kyi said.

Though the NLD should do well, Suu Kyi herself cannot assume the presidency as the widow of a British man and the mother of two sons with foreign passports.

Suu Kyi has crisscrossed the country, galvanizing crowds with a message of sweeping change, faster reforms and a state respectful of ethnic minorities. In the run-up to the poll, Suu Kyi has pledged to speed up democratic reforms, scrutinize investment to limit environmental impact and amend a junta-drafted constitution that bars her from becoming president.

Officials from the army-backed Union and Solidarity and Development Party have said that they remain confident that they will win 75 percent of the vote. The NLD must take 67 percent of the contested seats to win an outright majority.

Up to 30 million people could participate in next Sunday's election. Allegations of dirty tricks and minority group disenfranchisement have emerged in the run-up. Campaigning officially ceases at dawn on Friday.

mkg/cmk (Reuters, AFP, dpa, AP)