Myanmar's Suu Kyi woos army during campaign stop

March 6, 2012 - 6:05 AM
Myanmar Suu Kyi

Myanmar pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi holds talks with Myanmar parliament members at a hotel in Naypyitaw, Myanmar Tuesday, March 6, 2012. (AP Photo/Khin Maung Win, Pool)

NAYPYITAW, Myanmar (AP) — Opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi ended a campaign trip to Myanmar's capital Tuesday with a reassurance to the military that she seeks no confrontation with it.

Suu Kyi spoke Tuesday at two rallies on the outskirts of the capital, Naypyitaw, a stronghold of the ruling military-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party.

Her National League for Democracy is fielding candidates for all 48 seats at stake nationwide in April 1 by-elections, including four in the capital.

The seats in Naypyitaw were vacated last year by members of the ruling party who took senior government positions: President Thein Sein, Vice President Tin Aung Myint Oo, Lower House Speaker Thura Shwe Mann and Agriculture Minister Myint Hlaing.

In a 30-minute speech in Pobba Thiri township, Suu Kyi reached out to members of the military, or tatmadaw, saying she welcomes them and that her party does not oppose the institution. Suu Kyi's father was Gen. Aung San, a martyred independence hero.

"I welcome the tatmadaw and I want to say that our party, the NLD, is not an organization that will confront the tatmadaw," she said, adding that she hopes soldiers will attend her party's meetings in the future.

Naypyitaw is stronghold of the government party. It was custom-built in a remote area a decade ago under the previous military junta. It officially replaced Yangon as the capital in 2005 after it was populated with relocated civil servants and soldiers from a large military base.

Suu Kyi said the international community is watching the upcoming polls and wants to know if the country will continue down a democratic path as claimed by President Thein Sein. He initiated reforms, including the release of political prisoners, after decades of military repression.

The United States and other countries have said they will wait to see if the by-elections are free and fair before they consider lifting political and economic sanctions imposed against the former military regime.

The army ruled Myanmar from 1962 until last March, when it turned over power to Thein Sein's government, composed largely of retired army officers.

The NLD overwhelmingly won a 1990 general election but the military did not allow it to take power. It boycotted a 2010 election, complaining of unfair and undemocratic conditions. The party was officially deregistered, but agreed to reregister and contest this year's polls after Thein Sein pushed through changes it sought in the election law.

Despite the reforms, some NLD candidates have complained of obstacles and harassment, such as being prevented from using some venues for meetings and having party signboards slashed. Suu Kyi was unable to get permission to use a football field in Naypyitaw and instead held her rallies in open fields on the capital's outskirts.

"Using such despicable means against our party tarnishes the image of the country, and it is very bad to use unfair and ignoble means of campaigning," Suu Kyi said.

Suu Kyi, who is running for a seat in a district south of Yangon, has generally drawn large and ecstatic crowds while campaigning around the country.

However, during her two-day visit to Naypyitaw, no NLD banners were hung across the roads and the usual long lines of flag-waving supporters were not seen.

The enthusiastic supporters who attended her rallies were mostly villagers living near the venues, which were at least 15 miles (25 kilometers) from the areas where most civil servants live.