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Updated: February 11, 2012 08:55 IST

Aung San Suu Kyi kicks off by-election campaign

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Myanmar's pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi addresses reporters at her house. Photo: AP
Myanmar's pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi addresses reporters at her house. Photo: AP

Myanmar’s democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi on Saturday launched her campaign for a seat in the April 1 by-election, which is seen as a litmus test for the new government’s reforms.

Ms. Suu Kyi, 66, kicked off her campaign with a rally at the Myanmar Info Tech centre in Yangon, where she spoke on youth and technology to about 500 people.

She was scheduled to travel to Kawhmu township, 30 kilometres south of the centre of Yangon, where she is contesting one of 48 seats left vacant when the cabinet took office in March.

This is the first election the Nobel laureate has contested in Myanmar. During the 1990 polls, which her National League for Democracy (NLD) party won by a landslide, Ms. Suu Kyi was under house arrest.

At the time of the November 7, 2010, general election, Ms. Suu Kyi was again under house arrest, although she was released a week later.

The fact that the current government has allowed Ms. Suu Kyi to contest is seen as a major advance for Myanmar’s steps toward a more democratic system after five decades of military dictatorships.

“The coming by-election is a key test how far the government has progressed in the process of reform,” the United Nations special rapporteur on Myanmar said last weekend after a six-day visit.

President Thein Sein is said to be eager to have Ms. Suu Kyi win a seat and become a member of Parliament, to encourage Western governments to drop economic sanctions, observers said.

With little opposition from the regime, the NLD is expected to do well, given the popularity of Ms. Suu Kyi.

“We will win the majority of the 48 seats,” NLD spokesman Nyan Win predicted.

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