Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi said today supporters need not be afraid when they cast ballots in landmark elections, as she railed against government neglect while campaigning in her rural constituency.
Suu Kyi received a rockstar welcome on the campaign trail in her impoverished constituency of Kawhmu, just two hours from the bustling commercial hub Yangon, in her bid to lead her party to victory in the first nationwide polls it has fought in 25 years.
“It’s not 1990 anymore, so people don’t need to be afraid. They can be brave to vote for the National League for Democracy,” she told a rally in remote Wah Ba Lauk Tauk village, referring to elections that were won by her party but then ignored by the then-junta.
The NLD is expected to sweep the November 8 polls, seen as a litmus test of the country’s democratic progress. But beyond that, much remains uncertain.
The army will still wield considerable political clout, with a quarter of parliament’s seats reserved for unelected soldiers, while Suu Kyi has not revealed her preferred candidate for president—a role selected by parliament in the months after the vote.
She is excluded from the job by a clause in the junta-drafted constitution barring those with foreign spouses or children from top political office—her sons are British.
She has also come under fire for a lack of concrete policies, although the party has released a selection of broad priorities in a recent manifesto, including encouraging investment and improving tax collection.
In her Kawhmu constituency, where ramshackle homes nestle under graceful bamboo trees and most people scratch a living from agriculture, people are beginning to see flickers of development after decades of neglect under Myanmar’s former military regime, which ruled until 2011.
The opposition leader has showered Kawhmu with over USD 4 million in development aid from donors disbursed by the Daw Khin Kyi Foundation, a charity set up in honour of her mother.
Schools and clinics have been opened, while new concrete roads weave through paddy fields and rubber plantations, but many communities in the area are still only accessible by boat or rutted tracks.
The region was thrust into the limelight in 2012 when Suu Kyi won a by-election that parachuted her into Myanmar’s military-dominated parliament, one of the most dramatic signs of reform in the long-isolated nation, where she was held under house arrest for some 15 years.