DEMOSO, Myanmar — Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi on Thursday urged voters to opt for "real change" and back her party in the first general election since the end of military rule, as she took her campaign into the backyard of a close presidential ally.
Thousands of supporters gave Suu Kyi a rapturous welcome in Demoso in the sparsely populated state of Kayah on the Thai border. The small town is close to the constituency where powerful Minister of the President's Office Soe Thein, the architect of President Thein Sein's economic reforms, is running for a seat.
"We want to form the government for real change," said Suu Kyi as red-clad supporters cheered in front of a stage decked with the flags of her party, the National League for Democracy.
"The coming election is our chance to change the system and go for democracy. People should not miss the chance," she added, declaring the NLD's ambition to win all contested seats.
The NLD is expected to win the election, which marks a major shift in Myanmar's political landscape, giving a platform to democratic activists shut out of public life during nearly half a century of strict military rule that ended in 2011.
The election is poised to be the country's freest and fairest since 1990, when the NLD won in a rout, only for the junta not to recognize the result. Campaigning officially started on Tuesday.
"I came back from the field early because I wanted to see her," said farmer Mu Hla, elbowing through the crowd towards the stage. "I love her and I want to vote for the NLD."
The election will determine representatives of the bicameral parliament and regional chambers for five-year terms.
The upper and lower houses will both nominate a presidential candidate, who must secure the support of a majority of members. The military will nominate a third.
Parliament will then vote for one of the three candidates to become president and form the government.
The constitution bars Suu Kyi from becoming president, regardless of the outcome, because she has British children. It also gives the army a veto over constitutional change.
"We can promise the change and long-term development, rule of law and democracy for the country," said Suu Kyi as she wrapped up her speech in Demoso.
Suu Kyi will now take her campaign to Bawlakhe – a town of several thousand and the constituency where Soe Thein is running for a seat in the upper house.
Targeting Bawlakhe reflects the NLD's strategy of aiming to unseat high-profile government officials.
The presidential ally, a veteran of the ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party, is running as an independent after a fallout over candidate lists with former party chairman Shwe Mann.
Soe Thein had wanted to run from USDP lists in Kayah State where the constituency is small, dominated by the military and seen as among the few safe seats for the ruling camp, but was blocked by Shwe Mann in July when candidate lists were prepared.
This contributed to the president's decision to sack Shwe Mann from the party leadership, in a dramatic shake-up of Myanmar's political establishment in August.
Story: Reuters / Hnin Yadana Zaw
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