Pledge to Scrap ‘Repressive’ Laws

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SUNDAY, 29 JANUARY 2012

Aung San Suu Kyi appeals for more reforms in Burma on a pre-election tour.

Pro-democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi vowed Sunday to push for the abolition of “repressive laws” in Burma as she drew cheering crowds during a rare trip outside of Rangoon city in preparation for elections to enter the country’s military-dominated parliament.

The 66-year-old Nobel laureate will spearhead her National League for Democracy’s battle in April elections, in which they will challenge the powerful, ruling military-backed party.

The by-elections in 48 parliaments seats will be a key test of commitment to reforms by President Thein Sein’s nominally civilian government, which came to power in March last year after decades of harsh military rule.

“In the by-elections, we will be in 48 places. If I’m in parliament, the NLD will work to repeal repressive laws,” Aung San Suu Kyi said as she toured the south of the country Sunday.

Although Thein Sein has launched initial reforms, including dialogue with Aung San Suu Kyi and releasing several hundred political prisoners, the country remains tightly governed with a constitution that is impossible to amend without the backing of the military.

Free and fair

Aung San Suu Kyi also called on the public to closely monitor the election campaign to make sure that the polls are free and fair, without any threats made to candidates.

“People need to watch to make sure the coming by-elections are free and fair. There should be no vote-buying and no threats to get votes,” she said as she was received by thousands of supporters at her party headquarters in Dawei town, in a scene that would have been impossible just a year ago.

“We will bring democracy to the country. We will work for development. We will bring rule of law to the country,” Aung San Suu Kyi told supporters, saying that now is the time to fight for democracy “from within parliament.”

Coastal division

Her aides were impressed by the crowd turnout.

“You can hear the crowds, huge crowds screaming ‘Long Live Daw Aung San Suu Kyi!’” one of her aides, Ko Kyi Toe, told RFA by telephone from Dawei in the coastal Tennaserim division.

“We trust the people of Tennaserim and this is why this is our first trip,” the aide told RFA.

Aung San Suu Kyi’s trip, her fourth outside Burma’s largest city, Rangoon, since she was freed from house arrest in November 2010, kick-started a political tour of the country that will be a test of how freely her opposition party can run the election campaign.

The NLD will be contesting all the available places vacated by lawmakers appointed to government posts—40 in the lower house, six in the upper house, and two in regional assemblies.

Limited power

Winning those seats and Aung San Suu Kyi’s first position in parliament would be highly symbolic, but her party would have limited power since the legislature would still be overwhelmingly dominated by the military and the ruling pro-military party.

The poll will be the first ballot since historic elections in November 2010, which the NLD boycotted and which rights groups declared as neither free nor fair.

In 1990 elections, the NLD earned an overwhelming victory against the ruling military junta but was prevented from taking power.

“The Lady,” as the 66-year-old is known in Burma, will be touring the rest of the country, including its second-largest city, Mandalay, in early February before officially campaigning for her own seat in Kwahmu township, a poor district just south of Rangoon.

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