By Francis Wade
Burma will hold by-elections on 1 April and open the door for opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi’s entrance parliament for the first time.
State media made the announcement yesterday after months of speculation over the date of the polls, in which 48 parliamentary seats are up for grabs. Parties had complained that the lack of warning could hamper their chances of success, although elections rules stipulate that at least three months’ notice must be given.
Suu Kyi’s decision to contest the by-elections has attracted mixed responses, with the co-founder of the National League for Democracy (NLD), Win Tin, saying recently that he did not think she should enter parliament.
Critics of the decision say her leverage in Burma’s political arena will remain limited as long as the army continues to dominate parliament – around a quarter of seats were awarded to military officials prior the November 2010 elections, while the ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), which won 80 percent of the vote, is seen by many as a product of the army.
Her presence in parliament could therefore be manipulated into a public relations show by the government, which has sought to appease the international community by enacting certain measures, including relaxation of media and protest laws, ostensibly aimed at loosening its grip over society.
But Suu Kyi’s stance on the by-elections run consistent with her view that progress has been made in Burma since a quasi-civilian government came to power in March last year. She is due to contest a seat in a rural township south of Rangoon called Kawhmu, although that has not been made official.
Spokesperson for the NLD, Nyan Win, told Reuters yesterday that the country’s election authority was yet to finish processing the party’s application, meaning it would delay announcing its candidates for the polls.
The party is due to retain its traditional structure and hierarchy, from the Central Executive Committee comprised of the likes of veteran members Win Tin and Nyan Win, down to township-level coordinators, although it will recruit more members after the April vote.