Myanmar's Suu Kyi confirms run for parliament seat

January 10, 2012 - 12:21 AM
Myanmar Politics

Myanmar democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi claps hands during a ceremony for a new signboard of her National League for Democracy party's headquarters in Yangon, Myanmar, Monday, Jan. 9, 2012. Australia said Monday it is easing some restrictions on members of Myanmar's ruling elite in response to political reforms by its military-backed government. (AP Photo/Khin Maung Win)

YANGON, Myanmar (AP) — Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi confirmed that she will run for a seat in parliament, her party said Tuesday, a move that will infuse April by-elections with legitimacy, star power and historic significance.

Suu Kyi said last year that she would run for parliament but had appeared to backtrack since then. A victory would give the Nobel Peace Prize winner and longtime political prisoner a voice in parliament for the first time in her decades-long role as the country's opposition leader.

She was under house arrest during November 2010 elections, which were boycotted by her National League for Democracy Party in part because she was barred from participating. The elections, Myanmar's first in 20 years, replaced a ruling military junta with a government that remains strongly linked to the military but has taken steps toward easing decades of repression.

Suu Kyi's decision to personally contest the April polls is the latest vote of confidence for government reforms that include the legalization of labor unions, increasing press freedom and opening a dialogue with Suu Kyi herself.

Party spokesman Nyan Win said Tuesday that Suu Kyi announced during a party meeting on Monday that she would seek a parliamentary seat in the Yangon suburb of Kawhmu. Yangon is Myanmar's largest city and Suu Kyi's hometown.

As recently as last week, Suu Kyi declined to confirm whether she would personally contest a seat, telling The Associated Press in an interview that her decision would be announced later this month. She also expressed cautious optimism about the government's reforms.

"I think there are obstacles, and there are some dangers that we have to look out for," Suu Kyi said. "I am concerned about how much support there is in the military for changes."

Even if Suu Kyi's party wins all 48 seats to be contested April 1, it will have minimal power. Most of the seats were vacated by lawmakers who became Cabinet ministers after the first parliamentary session last January.

The military is guaranteed 110 seats in the 440-seat lower house and 56 seats in the 224-seat upper house, and the main pro-military party holds 80 percent of the remaining 498 elected seats.

Suu Kyi's party won a sweeping victory in the 1990 general election but the junta refused to honor the results. The military regime kept Suu Kyi under house arrest on-and-off for 15 years, hoping to snuff out her popularity. Despite never having held elected office, she became Myanmar's most recognizable face and an icon for the country's pro-democracy movement.

Countries that imposed sanctions on Myanmar under the previous military government have taken at least tentative steps to improve relations. In November, Hillary Rodham Clinton because the first U.S. secretary of state to visit the country in more than 50 years, and on Monday, Australia became the first country to ease sanctions against Myanmar's ruling elite.