RANGOON—Pro-democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi said that Sunday’s by-elections will be neither free nor fair because of widespread irregularities, but vowed to continue her candidacy to press forward with reform.
The Nobel laureate said opposition candidates had suffered stone-throwing incidents and other intimidation that hampered their campaigning in the run-up to the weekend poll.
The ballot is considered a crucial test of Burma’s commitment to democratic reforms and may well herald the end to punitive economic sanctions imposed by Western nations.
The 66-year-old told a press conference that the irregularities go “beyond what is acceptable for democratic elections.”
“I don’t think we can consider it genuinely free and fair if we consider what has been going on for the last couple months,” she said. “We’ve had to face many irregularities.”
When asked how far she would go to dispute the result, Suu Kyi said she would wait and see.
“We will have to see how the polling goes .. if the will of the people is represented,” she said. “We will have to see if these irregularities affect the result.”
Suu Kyi said there were attempts to injure candidates and cited two cases in which stones or other objects were thrown at members of her opposition National League for Democracy (NLD), even causing one of the party’s security guards to be hospitalized.
There were “many, many cases of intimidation” and vandalism of party campaign posters. She blamed some of the acts on “people in official positions.”
Despite the irregularities, Suu Kyi said that the party is “determined to go forward because we think that is what our people want.”
The by-elections are likely to mark a symbolic turning point by bringing Suu Kyi into Parliament for the first time, an event that would raise hopes for a more representative government after half-a-century of repressive military rule.
The by-elections will fill 45 vacant seats in Burma’s 664-seat Union Parliament.
A victory by Suu Kyi and her opposition NLD would do little to alter the balance of power in Parliament but would give her a voice in government for the first time.
Asked how she wanted to aid the nation, she replied, “in a way to help all the ethnic nationalities to live peacefully and happily with one another.
“I don’t need an official position but if it makes my work more effective then why not. We have very unreasonable expectations!—we want to win as many constituencies as possible.”
And Suu Kyi vowed to make reconciliation in Burma a priority should she win a parliamentary seat.
“We have differences of opinion within the government … but we have faced many challenges over the years and we will face many more. I feel we can have a voice within Parliament even if we win about 44 seats.”
And Suu Kyi said she was overwhelmed with the strength of support she encountered on the campaign trail.
“Lots of people approached me during the campaign but particularly children jumping up and down and shouting for the NLD,” she said.
“I’m not going to visit all the polling stations [in Kawhmu Township where she is standing] but I would like to visit some of them—I do not want to [have] a disruptive effect.
And Suu Kyi said that there were few countries which have had such a chequered history as Burma with respect of prolonged conflict and related abuses.
“We are confident that we too can achieve reconciliation despite our record of violence and violation of human rights,” she said.
When asked if she believed that Burma could learn from the South African model of reform, she was positive.
“Certainly we would like to learn from as many countries as possible,” she said. “We would like to study all different patterns of reconciliation and see what we can gain from experiences elsewhere.
“We haven’t even really started our process of reconciliation officially. We are very interested in how other countries went about it and negotiated settlements.”
When asked whether she would want the perpetrators of human rights abuses to face trial, Suu Kyi quoted Arch-Bishop Desmond Tu-Tu, a fellow Nobel Peace Prize winner, in that, “what we believe in is not retributive justice but restorative justice.”
Suu Kyi denied that she has had discussions with the government of China regarding democracy, but said that the by-elections were positive for the entire region.
“It’s a step towards step one towards democracy,” she said. “For the Asean community it’s an opportunity to assess if real reforms have taken place or might be taking place in the near future.
“Democracy in this country will be a victory for our people. Once we get into Parliament we will be able to start building towards democratization.”