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Suu Kyi braces for return to politics

Aung San Suu Kyi appears on the verge of leading her party, the National League for Democracy (NLD), in a groundbreaking return to parliamentary politics in Myanmar a year after she was freed from house arrest.

world Updated: Nov 15, 2011 00:13 IST
GNS

Aung San Suu Kyi appears on the verge of leading her party, the National League for Democracy (NLD), in a groundbreaking return to parliamentary politics in Myanmar a year after she was freed from house arrest.

The potential move comes after the government signed an amendment to the electoral law on Friday that seemed to remove legal and ideological barriers to the party's participation, making the NLD "very likely to register", according to its spokesperson, U Nyan Win.

A series of byelections are believed to be due to take place at the end of December, involving around 50 parliamentary seats. They could see Aung San Suu Kyi take her first official role since she emerged as a leading voice in the democracy more than 20 years ago.

Aung San Suu Kyi led the NLD to an election win in 1990, but the party was barred from taking office by the military junta. Since then, the 66-year-old Nobel prize-winning campaigner has spent 15 of the past 22 years under house arrest. She was released last November, a few days after a controversial general election, boycotted by the NLD.

The first hurdle to the party's reintegration into mainstream political life was the now reformed electoral law that stated that parties had to "abide by and protect" the 2008 constitution, which is the basis for the country's nominally democratic political system, but which effectively places the military beyond civilian rule.

"We couldn't accept a military constitution," party founder U Win Tin said. The law has now been changed to say that the NLD must "abide by and respect" the constitution. But concerns remain: the constitution gives the military the ability to arbitrarily cancel civilian rule.

"They can seize power without even firing a gun," he said.

It also guarantees 25% of parliamentary seats for serving members of the military and that the institution is immune from prosecution in civilian courts. This led the NLD to boycott last year's election, which saw a military proxy party, the Union Solidarity and Development party (USDP), win an implausible landslide.

NLD members are expected to vote on 18 November on whether or not they support registration. Nyan Win said: "It will be good to participate. There are so many issues with the constitution that must be amended... but we must be in parliament to change them."

But there are differences of opinion within the party. Win Tin, who spent 19 years in solitary confinement after being jailed in the wake of the party's founding, is against registration. "I don't think we should go into parliament," he said. "If we go into parliament, we go under the rule of this constitution.