RANGOON — Burmese opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi will take her campaign straight to the camp of a close presidential ally on Thursday as she tours the country ahead of Burma’s first general election since the end of military rule.
Suu Kyi will visit three towns in Karenni State, a sparsely populated, landlocked state on the Thai border, where powerful Minister of the President’s Office Soe Thane, the architect of President Thein Sein’s economic reforms, is running for a parliamentary seat.
Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) is expected to win the election, which marks a major shift in Burma’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.
She is coming here just to support our candidates, because it looks like we are weaker than the rivals.”
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.
“Unlike Rakhine [Arakan], Shan and Chin states, there are no well-established local ethnic parties in Kayah [Karenni],” said Sithu Aung Myint, an independent political analyst. “The constituencies here are rather small and the NLD has a good chance to sweep to victory.”
Suu Kyi is to give two speeches close to Loikaw, the state capital, in the afternoon, and a third one in Bawlakhe, Soe Thane’s constituency, in the evening.
The NLD’s headquarters in Loikaw were abuzz as staff readied banners, hoisted the party flag and polished bronze statues of Suu Kyi and her father, Burma’s national hero Gen. Aung San, ahead of the visit.
“She is coming here just to support our candidates, because it looks like we are weaker than the rivals,” Thaung Htay, 56, a member of the Loikaw NLD chapter, told Reuters.
Soe Thane, who is running for an Upper House seat as an independent, is one of the top presidential acolytes and most powerful people in Burma.
He was excluded from the ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party’s (USDP) candidate lists in July by then-chairman of the party Shwe Mann. Some experts say this contributed to Shwe Mann’s ouster from party leadership in a dramatic shake-up of Burma’s political establishment last month.
Shwe Mann was removed from his post in a middle-of-the-night drama after trucks with armed police cordoned off the USDP compound in the capital Naypyidaw.
Thein Sein on Wednesday made his first public appearance since the start of the campaign, meeting leaders of ethnic minority guerrilla groups for ceasefire talks in Naypyidaw.
The election will determine representatives of the bicameral Union 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—which under the junta-drafted Constitution holds a quarter of the seats—will nominate a third.
Parliament will then vote on which of the three candidates will be president and the president will 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.