UPDATED: Opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi promises to protect minority rights if the NLD wins government after the Nov. 8 elections.

DEMOSO, Karenni State — National League for Democracy (NLD) leader Aung San Suu Kyi offered an olive branch to Karenni State’s diverse ethnic community on Thursday, promising to protect minority rights should the party win government after the Nov. 8 elections.

Speaking to a large crowd at a campaign rally in Demoso, the opposition leader said that voters could expect the NLD to accommodate the country’s myriad ethnic groups as well as the ethnic-based political parties contesting the poll

“Even though we are competing against ethnic parties, that will not decrease the rights of ethnic people,” she said.“If we can form government, we will serve the rights of ethnic people and protect them well.”

Suu Kyi’s NLD is fielding candidates against five ethnic parties in the state, representing its medley of Karenni, Padaung, Lisu and Shan communities. Also competing are the National Unity Party and the ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), the latter of which swept all state and Union seats in the 2010 election amid allegations of voter fraud.

Union ministers Soe Thane and Aung Min, both members of the USDP’s central executive committee, are also tipped to win two Upper House constituencies in Karenni State they are contesting as independents.

If we can form government, we will serve the rights of ethnic people and protect them well.”

Nan Yi, general secretary of the Kayan National Party, told The Irrawaddy that he believed the NLD would be a formidable opponent in November, and ethnic parties would have preferred to negotiate a pre-election alliance rather than competing against the main opposition party.

“Obviously all citizens realize what the USDP has done in the last five years, so we don’t regard them as a major competitor,” he said. “But we are a little bit worried about competing against the NLD.”

Suu Kyi told Thursday’s rally that people used to believe that the NLD primarily catered to the country’s Burman majority, but stressed the party had strong representation among the ethnic communities where it was fielding candidates, citing the diverse support the party attracted during its 1990 election win.

According to Nan Yi, ethnic parties were concerned about the prospect of electoral fraud in Karenni State, particularly a recurrence of the use of advance votes.

“Vote buying is very popular, but I don’t want to say which party,” said one Demoso voter, who asked to remain anonymous.

‘They Can’t See Who You Vote For’

Speaking to a Friday rally in Loikaw, the Karenni State capital, Suu Kyi told an audience of 2,000 that there was no need to fear the consequences of casting a ballot for the NLD.

“I have heard that people have tried to threaten voters into voting for them,” she said. “Don’t be afraid of that. Voting is a secret system. They don’t have magic powers to see for vote. So, be brave and vote for the NLD.”

She added that voters weren’t required to cast their ballots in advance, and told her audience to resist any pressure to cast a vote before election day.

A young member of the audience asked the opposition what the NLD would do first if it was able to form government after the elections.

“We have many things to do in our country,” she replied. “With so many issues, we can’t prioritize only one thing. But the peace process will be a high priority.”

This article was updated at 7pm Rangoon time to include information about the NLD rally in Loikaw.

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